“What would you like to drink?” the chap says, in a far more – I don’t know – cockney accent than I was expecting, or probably Mockney, come to think of it – the sort of accent Damon Albarn used to affect in the 90s. This one’s 36, 6 ft 4 and appears to be a cross between Jarvis Cocker and Russell Brand. Let’s call him Jarvis. He’s pale with chin- length dark hair and sports a beard (why?) and and a green parka over a multicoloured checked shirt and baggy jeans. He’s definitely going for a 90s look.
“Gin and slimline tonic please,” I say.
We’re sitting on a red sofa in a different bar – not my pub. we’re on the Priest’s turf so I’m hoping not to bump into him, or anyone in fact – this is an old regular haunt of mine, where I used to bring the chaps from the Jewish dating website.
Watching Jarvis shuffle off to the bar, I note his loping gait. There’s something calm and comforting about him: like being out with a large fruit-eating bear – a sloth bear, a sun bear or maybe even a spectacled bear.
“Here you go,” he says, putting my drink down on the table, smiling. “So, what did you do at the weekend,” he says, once he’s arranged his long legs on the sofa.
“Um, I went to see my parents and my kitten and went out cycling with Dad and um,” mustn’t mention my psychiatrist, “then I came back to the flat and went to Spin on Sunday and my aunt came over and she brought blue crisps – made out of blue potatoes – they’re amazing and then went to the park to see the dinosaurs and then Suzie came over for supper and to watch Downton,” I say.
“Did you go out at all?” he says.
“Um, well I went to the gym, and out cycling,” I say.
“I had such a heavy weekend,” he says, and he’s looking tired – bags under his eyes, increasing his bearlike appearance. “I was DJing at Fabric on Friday and then a party on Saturday and…I didn’t get home till 8 in the morning on Saturday or Sunday.”
“Aren’t you getting a bit old for that?” I say.
“Absolutely,” he says. “Except they pay me.”
His phone rings. “Sorry, I have to take this,” he says. “Oh, hi, yes, of course, yes, come round about 9 for a cup of tea.” He puts the phone down, turns back to me. “Sorry – that was my sponsee. From AA.”
“Ah,” I say. Some things become clear. He’d mentioned in his messages that he doesn’t drink. Right.
“He’s going through a tough time,” Jarvis says, pushing a chunk of hair behind his ear. “And ridiculous as it sounds, he looks to me for guidance.”
“Um, how long have you been dry for?” I say.
“Sixteen years. Since I was twenty,” he says.
“That’s great,” I say. I’ve dated alcoholics before, and I’ve encountered them at mental health events. Ought to have realised, I think. He’s got that shambolic way about him.
“So, um, where did you grow up?” I say.
“Oh, it’s a dump,” he says. “An old military base. My father was in the parachute regiment.”
“Wow, cool,” I say.
“Yeah, I suppose,” he says. “Only he was in prison on and off.”
“Oh. I’m sorry,” I say. I don’t want to know, I think. This isn’t first date chat.
“My grandfather committed suicide by setting himself on fire,” he says.
Pause. What on earth am I meant to say to that and that really really really isn’t first date chat.
“Why?” I ask the obvious question.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Jarvis says.
Presumably if he’d left a note that would’ve gone up in flames too. Surely if you kill yourself in such a ghastly, violent, painful way there’s got to be a reason, I think.
The chat moves on to other things. The self-immolating grandfather continues to smoulder in the corner of my mind’s eye.
“Look, I’d better get going,” Jarvis says. “I’ve got to be back for 9, for my sponsee and…”
“OK,” I say. I’m definitely starting to get hungry, although now I’m not planning to fry anything, due to the burning, crackling sounds of the grandfather being consumed by flames that now fill my head. Hopefully he got asphyxiated by the smoke quite quickly, I think, that’s what happens isn’t it.
“I’ll wait with you for your bus,” Jarvis says, as we leave the bar.
Arriving home, I put an artichoke on to cook – it’s just cooking in water – no burning required. My phone pings. It’s a What’s App message from Jarvis.
“Hey you xxx Sorry i wasn’t at my best…I’m feeling really rough. I thought you were lovely.”
“Thank you,” I say.
“Hopefully I can hang out with you again,” he writes back.
“That would be great,” I reply. The grandfather has been set on fire now. Surely he can’t tell me anything worse than that, I think.
“I’m super impressed by the shape you’re in,” he says. “What are you doing now?”
“Watching The World At War – the episode about U-boats and the Atlantic convoys,” I say.
“I love that series! I have the boxset. My favourite interview is with the guy from the Luftwaffe who wanted to avoid descending into mediocrity after having his arm blown off,” he says.
“Yay! I have that delight still to come. I look forward to viewing you without the Beard then,” I say.
“It’s better,” he says, and sends me a beardless photo which is indeed much better – just like Jarvis in fact.
Who knows whether seeing him again is a good idea. It’ll give me material for at least one more blog post though…