Tuesday 8 January 2008

My love life on wheels

15st 2lbs; zero alcohol; 1,487; North Utsire. My modest weight gain over the last 24 hours may be the result of yesterday’s figure being artificially reduced by dehydration. Or it may have something to do with the socking great curry and naan bread I put away yesterday lunchtime, in an entirely successful attempt to banish the resulting hangover.

I landed myself in serious trouble with my beloved aunt last year, when I described myself in the local paper as “an alcoholic”. This was intended as a joke, and I could not understand why she found it so much more mortifying than it would have been if I had used a more accurate description, like “habitual drunk”. Alcoholics are people who have had the courage to face up to their problem, and who spend time meeting in draughty church halls to try and support each other in overcoming it. Drunks refuse to recognize that there is a problem, and meet in pubs (all of which, since the smoking ban, smell exactly like public lavatories) to argue about whose round it is. Is that intrinsically more admirable?

One of the features of all the genuine alcoholics I have known is that they much prefer drink to food. I’d take them out to expensive restaurants and they’d half-heartedly push stuff around their plate while they focused on the main task of getting the booze down their necks. On this measure, I am definitely not one of them. The only reason I am trying to steer off drink during the current Great Weight Loss Challenge is that alcohol simultaneously stimulates my appetite and weakens my self-discipline, which has never been brilliant at the best of times.

It’s pouring today and I’m staying indoors in front of a crackling log fire (you have to pay extra for the sort of logs that roar). I was thinking for some reason about Cheryl the matchmaker, about whom I wrote last Thursday, and remembered that I actually gave her another chance after my encounter with the midget sociopath previously recounted. I don’t have a particularly forgiving nature, but I had paid her several hundred pounds to be introduced to the life partner of my dreams, and I was too mean just to do the sensible thing and write that off.

I was to be introduced to this latest paragon at yet another of Cheryl’s social gatherings (which were, I suppose, another nice little earner on the side). This one was in a basement restaurant, which turned out not to be the best bit of logistical planning of all time.

Cheryl buttonholed me as soon as I arrived, and told me at great length how lovely Jayne was, and how we were going to get on like a house on fire. Then her mobile rang. “Ah”, she announced, “She’s here. Maybe you could go with Peter and bring her down?”

Yup. Among all the many good things she had eagerly told me about Jayne, she had omitted to mention that she was confined to a wheelchair.

Now, if I were in a relationship and my partner became disabled through accident or disease, I would consider myself beneath contempt if I attempted to find an excuse for walking away. I’m not saying that I definitely wouldn’t do it, just that I know I would be beneath contempt if I did.

But I don’t think most able-bodied people would put paraplegia close to the top of their list of desires when drawing up a specification for a new partner.

Even so, Jayne was undeniably pretty and love might yet have triumphed but for one small detail. Once again, we had absolutely nothing in common. Even after her misfortune, she was vastly fitter and more active than I was. Indeed, she was heading off on a ski-ing holiday later that week, and explained in some detail how it was still possible for her to get out on the slopes. I in turn explained why nothing on Earth would make me want to strap a couple of planks to my feet and launch myself down a mountainside.

Despite bearing physical witness to the consequences, she remained a fan of a wide range of dangerous sports, whereas the bravest thing I had ever done was telling an Irish joke in the Collingwood Arms in Jesmond, almost within earshot of a man who professed to be a keen supporter of the IRA.

She had no interest whatsoever in any of my vaguely artistic and intellectual pursuits. In short, it was another waste of an evening.

The next day a client asked me how my introduction had gone, and laughed uproariously when I told him the story.

“Actually,” he said, “your best chance of getting a bird into bed is probably to wheel her there and tip her into it.”

“Thank you.”

“And, of course, if she’s lost all feeling from the waist down, she presumably won’t notice how usel …”

“Yes, thank you. That will be quite enough of that.”

As I look back now, though, I cannot avoid the uncomfortable feeling that he might well have been absolutely right on both points.

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