On the very odd occasion, I have been lucky enough to travel with a few of my jobs. I once went away to London to train for a couple of weeks. Lucky me, I was away at the same time as most of the senior management bigwigs.
We were staying in the same hotel; they were all friendly enough but I was aware I had to be on my best behaviour & it put me on edge. Not that my worst behaviour is particularly bad. Anyway, a couple of days in someone got extremely drunk & racially abused a waitress, so anything I did after that paled in comparison.
From the moment I arrived at the airport, I was accompanied by Steve. I hadn’t met him before but he made a beeline towards me & introduced himself. Steve looked like a hairless pug, his head was abnormally round & small. He had beads of sweat on his forehead that constantly trickled down the ridges of dry skin that framed his eyes.
Steve wasn’t in management, but he emphasised to me that he could be if he wanted to be. Making sure I knew it was his choice he wasn’t one of the top brass. One of the elite.
Steve was a character. At least, that’s how he described himself to me. From the moment we arrived at the airport, he wanted a pint of Guinness. Which is fine, except that it was about 7am. On the flight, he had two gin & tonics. By the time we got to the hotel, he was somewhat drunk. He threw his bag in his room & went out in search of a bar.
The next morning at breakfast, he filled his pockets for the day. Now everyone takes the odd apple or a roll at a free breakfast buffet in a hotel. But this guy filled his boots (not literally I hope but I wouldn’t have been surprised). He took enough for four people, piling it high on his tray. Even bringing down a coffee flask to fill up.
I took a banana.
We went off to training, both of us in separate parts of the college, agreeing to meet up after for the return journey home. I met up with him at the end of the day & he was drunk. Not rolling round the floor drunk, but had a definite glassy eyed glint about him.
I shrugged it off. I was probably imagining it, or maybe he was just hung over from the previous day.
We arranged to have drinks in the evening, so we went to some bar with a view of the city. It was a bit pricey. I didn’t mind. Only young once & all that. I thought it was a one off, so I’d let my hair down.
‘Let’s get cocktails!’ Steve grabbed a menu. ‘They’re on me!’
I ordered a French Martini, Steve ordered a Cosmopolitan. It came to the guts of twenty five quid. Steve’s eyes bulged in his head, I offered to pay but he waved me away.
‘That’s as much for a glass as you’d pay for a jug back home.’
‘I think you pay for the view as well.’ We cheersed, clinked glasses & stared out at the glimmering lights.
‘I love cocktails, my wife says I’m like her big, gay, best friend,’ I smiled at him & nodded, not sure of what to say. ‘Did you watch Sex & The City?’
‘Yeah, I’m not much of a fan to be honest.’
‘My wife says I’m like Stanton & she’s Carrie.’ Of course she is, everyone thinks they are Carrie. ‘I’m her gay best friend, only not gay. It’s because I love cocktails.’
‘Sure, who doesn’t love a cocktail?’ I replied.
‘And rom-coms, I love rom-coms. I could watch them all day. My wife says I’m the perfect man.’
‘I’m not big on romantic comedies.’ Bit of a lie, I like You’ve Got Mail but that’s it.
‘Oh come one, all girls love romantic comedies.’ He threw back his cosmo in one go.
‘Come on, don’t tell me you wouldn’t watch a Ryan Gosling film?’ He started to poke me with his finger.
‘I don’t know who that is.’
‘He was married to that Reece Witherspoon.’
‘I still don’t know who that is.’ I sipped my drink as he called the barman over again, snapping his fingers the whole time.
‘What about Jude Law?’
‘I don’t like Jude Law.’
OK, maybe I should have played along at this stage & said ‘Oh yeah, Jude Law! I loved him in that film where he’s play a lovable rogue that some girl tames’.
But that’s all of his films & I definitely don’t like Jude Law. I also don’t like being told I like things because I’m a girl. Especially if the person who is telling me these things is poking me in the arm.
‘My wife loves Jude Law. What about Hugh Grant?’
Word of advice, don’t get me started on Hugh Grant films. I’m not going to replicate what I said about Hugh Grant, it’s definitely not flattering let’s say. It’s not going on any film posters any time soon.
‘OK, OK, not Hugh Grant films! Channing Tatum?’
‘I don’t know who that is.’
‘You should really watch The Notebook, it’s the best. He’s in that.’
I haven’t & won’t watch The Notebook. Plus it turns out it was Ryan Gosling in that one, not Channing Tatum. Which confused me even more.
‘Yes I like Tom Hardy.’ In Batman, I like Tom Hardy in Batman. I don’t think Tom Hardy dressed as Bane with the full-on face mask counts as romantic. But if you do, I’m not going to judge.
‘He’s great in that one with Reece Witherspoon. See, I told you, you like rom-coms.’ He prodded me in the arm, I just nodded.
Finally the barman came over & served Steve. I offered to buy his drink but he said I could get the next round. I mouthed “sorry” to the barman, then went back to sipping my first drink.
He named a few more actors & I nodded along. He was now three drinks down (plus the ones I suspected he’d had through the day) & Steve was starting to open up about things.
‘My wife & I are trying for a baby.’
‘Congratulations!’ I never know whether to say congratulations, well done or good luck.
‘We’re not pregnant yet.’ He glugged at his pint. ‘We’re going for IVF. Have you ever watched the Friends… you did watch Friends didn’t you?’
I nodded, but his tone was thick with exasperation.
‘Well, you know the Friends where Chandler is told he has slow sperm count & Monica is told her womb is a hostile environment? Well that’s basically us.’
‘Is that what the doctor said?’
‘Pretty much.’ He turned his back to me, clicking his fingers again at the barman.
‘That’s tough,’ I didn’t know what to say. I never know what to say when someone talks to me about reproductive organs. It makes me uncomfortable, but (because I’m a woman) it happens a lot. ‘You have to just keep trying. It might still work out for you.’
‘Yeah, well what do you know?’ He snapped.
‘Erm, well actually I know a few people who have tried IVF…’
‘Are you going to drink that?’
‘Are you ever going to drink that cocktail?’ I looked down at the french martini. The ice in the glass had melted, the liquid tinged with blue but it was only water left in the glass.
‘It’s just ice, melted ice.’
‘That drink cost me £14.’
‘And I drank it, I said thank you,’ I grimaced. ‘I did offer to pay. It’s only ice now.’
‘Give it here.’ He reached over & downed the melted ice from my glass. I leaned across the bar & caught the barman’s eye, he came straight over.
‘You only came to her because she’s a girl,’ Steve said to him.
‘I’m not a girl. I’m a woman & he came to me straight away because I didn’t snap my fingers at him.’ I ordered two more cocktails. Steve started again into his baby problems.
‘Monica & Chandler ended up adopting. I’m not adopting. You never know what you’ll end up with.’
‘I think you end up with a child.’
‘Yeah, you’re so very funny. Adopting’s not for me. I can’t see me caring for someone else’s child.’
‘But it won’t be someone else’s…’ I started but Steve cut me off.
‘I’m sorry but what do you know about it? What makes you such an expert?’
‘I never said I was…’
‘Then your opinion isn’t valid, is it?’ Steve then peeled a patch of dry skin about the size of a thumbnail from his face. Placed it on his tongue & swallowed it.
As far as conversation stoppers, that one seems to be the best.
In fact it was so effective, I drank up (ice & all), left the barman a tip & avoided Steve the rest of the two weeks.