Forty

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I went to S.T’s fortieth birthday party last Saturday night. It was full of stupid, sleazy media types braying like donkeys, desperate to be liked, to be younger than they were, to be thought of as important, in fact to be everything other than what they were. I wanted to leave as soon as I had arrived.

The Fool (c) Harry Chapman

I was propping up the bar, attempting to look as though I was happy to be on my own, when a smiley, idiotic face loomed out of the crush.
“Hello. Who are you?”
I was relieved for the company, even if it was for a fool. At least he appeared a good-natured fool.
“Harry, friend of S’s.”
“You’re in TV aren’t you?”
“Yes. I suppose. Sort of.” Maybe he wasn’t as stupid as he looked. “How did you know?”
“Oh, all of S’s friends are in TV.” Or maybe he was.
We shot the breeze; he was appealingly ingenuous. Rarely had I met someone who was less concerned in making themselves appear impressive.
“I like to surf.”
“Really? You’re a surfer?” I ask, staring at his receding chin.
“No, I surf life. Take what comes, go with the flow.”
A philosopher no less. And I liked his philosophy.
“So what do you do?”
Something independent possibly, a little bit left field.
“Data. I work in data.”
“Data?”
“Data. I shift it, review it. It’s perfect for me.” Leaning in slightly. “I’ve very little ambition you know.”
I feel the ground give way. I should have seen the signs. I slip into quicksand, a chill pressure about my spine. I thrash around for something, anything.
“So you live in South London?” (We were south of Tower Bridge.)
“I’ve lived everywhere – north, south, east, west.”
“And now?”
“Streatham. Actually, Redhill. I just moved. Just got married. You know how it is. She wants the garden and house in suburbia.”
The tree root I’m grasping gives way. Sand is funnelling around me.
“You’re married? Congratulations!” Where did you have it?”
“Vegas.”
I grope round and grasp a tuft of grass. There is something so dreadful about a Vegas wedding that it could feasibly be looked upon as a post modern rebellion. There was still hope.
“You weren’t married by an Elvis impersonator were you?” A foolhardy question but a necessary one.
“Yes I was!”
The tuft comes away. A decade ago an Elvis impersonator reading the vows could have been looked on as ironic. Not now. All I had was a vision of endless rows of fat, scorched women from Blackpool wearing Asda leggings, a dolphin tattoo on their ankles accompanied by their perma-tanned middle-aged toyboys in sagging polyester suits. All grinning, without a trace of irony.
“It was great! And one of the best things about it was that I knew none of our friends could come.”
Sand presses in on all sides. I don’t have long left.
“And is the lucky bride here?” I gasp.
“Yeah, she’s just behind us.”
He steps aside and a fat, scorched woman wearing Asda leggings grins at us from a table against the wall.

Whether she is from Blackpool, or has a dolphin tattoo on her ankle I never discover, for at that moment a stranger I shall be eternally grateful to inadvertently kicks me a twisted vine by engaging my friend in conversation. I clamber from my pit and flee into the night.

Written, endured and illustrated by Harry Chapman.

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