Friday 1 September 2006

Derailing my train of thought

Whilst driving to the garage yesterday, where my ailing bucket of rust had an MOT-shaped date with destiny, I had to stop to let a line of ducks cross the road. The four web-footed friends waddled slowly across the street, for all the world like a feathered version of the Abbey Road album sleeve. But I digress - what I really want to get down on paper is the sequence of thoughts this sight triggered in me, so here goes.

First of all, I was reminded of a woman I used to work with in a previous job. She was fond of saying "you've got your ducks all in a row" to indicate that something was correct or going well. She also had amazing blue eyes, but that's not really relevant here. Anyway, she then led me to think of another woman I worked with in the same job who I had a bit of a thing for. One evening after a night out to celebrate her birthday we stumbled out of a club and, standing next to a long line of expectant taxis, she said that I could come back to her place to call a cab. Somehow - don't ask me how - I missed this sign that maybe she was interested in me too, and simply replied that I'd get one of the cabs that we were standing right next to. How could I be so dense?

By now the Thought Express was gathering steam, as I recalled another missed opportunity. Years previously, whilst still at university in fact, I became close friends with a girl on the same hall as me who was just so amazing... we really clicked on every level, shared thoughts and feelings, sat up all night talking and listening to music... you get the idea. One night out on the town (again celebrating someone's birthday, coincidentally), I noticed that she seemed very attracted to another partygoer, yet seemed to lack the confidence to do anything about it. On my way back to my room I left a note under her door quoting lyrics from Ask by The Smiths (you know, "shyness is nice and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life that you want to", that kind of thing) in an attempt to bolster her confidence, even though subconsciously the last thing I wanted her to do was to make progress with this other guy. Anyway, I got up very early the next morning and went home for the weekend. Within minutes of my arriving back late on Sunday night, she was at my door, clutching the note. Turns out that despite my truncating the line "if there's something you want to try, ask me, I won't say no, how could I?" to just "if there's something you want to try, ask" she thought the note was my way of saying that I wanted us to become a couple. Which it wasn't, even though the thought had crossed my mind. Thinking back to the look on her face as all this came out, when it seemed I could actually hear her racing heart thumping, I think that maybe it had crossed her mind too... so why did I get flustered and laugh it off? Why did I explain the perceived attraction to this other guy, and the real reason for the note? A few months later she went home to the US and, although we're still in touch by letter and email, I've only actually seen her once since, and that was ten years ago this month. If I'm honest with myself, I compare how I feel about any woman I meet with how I felt about her, and so far no-one measures up... so again, how could I be so dense?

By now my train of thought was thundering down the track, crashing through leaves on the line as if they weren't there, as I cast my mind back still further, to primary school in fact. In my last year (making me about 11) there was one girl in class who was so pretty that she made us boys think that maybe there was more to girls than met the eye. To my pre-pubescent self her long honey-coloured hair and chestnut-brown eyes were distracting in a way I didn't quite understand at the time. She even had a cool Irish name that I liked to say aloud, just to hear the unusual sound of it. As Valentine's Day rolled around I made a card for her, the verse of which culminated in my asking her if she'd like to be my girlfriend (I was much bolder then than I am these days, it seems). Cunningly, or so I thought, I signed the card in very flowery, upside-down and back-to-front calligraphy, safe in the knowledge that she wouldn't be able to decipher the name, But of course she did. Walking home from school that night I dragged my feet, so that I wouldn't see her, but as I passed her road I looked down and saw her, maybe 50 yards away. "Yes!" she shouted, over and over. So why didn't I run down the road to talk to her, maybe hold her hand, or do any of the other stuff that primary school sweethearts do? Why, precisely, did I deny sending the card the next day, and say that Simon had forged it as a joke? She was the prettiest girl in school, I really liked her and she, it seemed, liked me. Again, how could I be so dense?

At this point my train of thought derailed completely, as I arrived at the garage and deposited my depressing Italian hatchback. 28 hours later, I still haven't got the car back, as the mechanics find untold and undoubtedly costly repairs to be made. But when I go to pick the car up later today, I hope I don't see those damned ducks - I can do without reminding myself of all this again.

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