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I Disappoint My First Woman…
By all accounts I was born on the hottest day that year. It was a leap year. It had started off well enough; a dazzling summer sun surrounded by an intensely blue sky which would have lightened my mother’s mood had it not been for the thunderous clouds on the horizon threatening to extinguish all that was joyful and glorious that morning.

When Annie Duncan, village midwife and old maid drove into our gravel driveway, vicious droplets of rain were already battering her shiny, black Austin. My father Ian, who had been waiting nervously under the porch, jumped down opening the passenger door grabbing the heavy bag of surgical instruments, scrambling after the midwife who had run ahead holding a folded newspaper over her head.

It seems my mother Sarah, after interminable screaming, sweating, grunting, and matter-of-fact instructions from Annie, evicted me from my warm haven like a reluctant tenant from a beloved pied-á-terre. Annie Duncan, holding me up and with a rare smile on her face exclaimed she had never seen a new-born with such large testicles.

“It’s a miracle!” added Annie cackling.

My mother, wide-eyed, started to sob unconsolably refusing to hold me in that first hug of motherly-love. She desperately wanted a girl. That was sixty years ago to the day. My mother never forgave me.

A Girl I Never Meet Ends Up Hating Me
When Jakub rattles my letterbox this morning, we both know I won’t open the door and ask him in for a cup of tea. He, more than me, would feel awkward and tongue-tied having looked through his pile of letters and padded envelopes looking for a non-existent birthday card. I quickly place my ear against the cold door waiting for Jakub’s footsteps to recede into the distance, only then do I relax bending down to pick the lone manila-envelope on the shabby lino of my tiny hallway.

Her husband, it seems, rarely washes, smells like their cow and is prone to violent moods.

Over numerous cups of PG Tips I have come to know Jakub well. He is a strong, well-built, young man with grey eyes and a friendly disposition. He comes from a far-flung village in Poland. In Jakub’s world everything is simple being either black or white. For him there’s only up or down. True or false. Sweet or sour. Women, as far as he’s concerned, are either beautiful or ugly. People unequivocally honest or to be avoided like the plague. In his opinion I should not be living on my own. Full stop.

Jakub regularly tells me about his cousin Basha, a beautiful and unmarried woman in his native village who would make a fine wife for me. Jakub has already discussed the matter with Basha who seems excited at the prospect of a new life. Untruthfully, I tell him I will think about it.

Several months later, Jakub, with an apologetic note in his voice, informs me that Basha, tired of my indecisiveness has accepted a marriage proposal from a widower in the next village. Jakub, finishing his tea quicker than usual, hurries to the door where he gives me a short hug of commiseration before scuttling off to continue his rounds.

P.S. The following morning Jakub brings me a rather expensive bottle of Krug champagne which he hopes will help me get over my disappointment. He tells me he bought it at the pub from a fellow he knows. I am of course delighted and determine to keep it for a special occasion.

Its late February and unusually cold for the time of year. When I hear Jakub outside I open my door and ask him in for his usual tea which he quickly accepts. After a sip or two, he tells me things are not going well for Basha who is desperately unhappy. Her husband, it seems, rarely washes, smells like their cow and is prone to violent moods when he drinks. He is lazy and mean and there is rarely enough food or logs in the house to keep her warm. Jakub cheerfully tells me Basha blames me for her unfortunate state of affairs and now refers to me as the ‘pryc’ which Jakub assures me is not what it sounds like.

Louise Leaves Me for a Dog Handler
Jakub knows I have been married twice. First to nervous Louise, plump with a pretty face, and then Sylvia, tall, impossibly beautiful and an endearing and delightful lack of self-esteem. In total I was married for twelve years and three months. Both marriages were childless.
Louise, left me for an RAF dog-handler called Brian. A typed, apologetic note, explained she no longer loved me and that Brian had opened her eyes making her feel wanted, special, imbuing her with a sense of self-confidence she had never known. She tells me it’s best if I don’t contact her ever again and hopes I will find happiness soon. Her solicitor will be in touch regarding our small, heavily-mortgaged house.

When I go into our bedroom I am hit by the gaping hole of Louise’s empty wardrobe, its doors open, wire coat-hangers dangling listlessly on their wooden rail. Closing the doors, the smell of her perfume wafts into my face which to my surprise makes me feel sad and liberated at the same time – a feeling Jakub would find very baffling.

Louise has taken her favourite pillows making our bed look strangely lopsided and unwelcoming. The prospect of sleeping alone irritates me thinking how cosy Louise and Brian will be feeling tonight. I hope Brian is a heavy snorer. With that happy thought playing out in my head I get my coat and amble slowly towards the Angry Friar. There I will have a pint of export and a packet of crisps and take stock of my life.

P.S. Thankfully Louise has not taken my precious bottle of 1989 Krug Champagne.

Noisy Testicles and Spaghetti Carbonara
Sylvia, my beautiful second wife, whilst we dined on good carbonara made with pig’s cheeks on a romantic weekend in Rome, starting sobbing uncontrollably to the delight of the Italians around us. Italians, who have no sense of humour which requires planning and structure, are masters when it comes to drama. Skilfully they imbue even the mundane with a deep sense of the theatre. Unashamedly they stare at Sylvia crying over her spaghetti and leaning their heads closer together, wonder loud enough for everyone to hear if her mother has died or the waiter sprinkled too much Pecorino and not enough Parmesano in her spaghetti. With each possibility they wave their forks and knives as if conducting a Verdi operetta.

When we get back to our hotel, the Splendide Royal, in the Via Veneto, Sylvia, after much persuasion, finally confesses that she has been very confused and that perhaps she doesn’t like men as much as she thought. Lately she has been finding the size of my testicles very off-putting. It’s the slapping sound she’s been finding particularly unsavoury. Sobbing, she admits it’s been years since she has enjoyed being intimate with me and has started to feel very attracted to a female colleague.

Unashamedly they stare at Sylvia crying over her spaghetti .

Years later, Jennifer, a friend of Sylvia’s whom I met by chance in one of the coffee shops springing up like measles around the town, told me it was the sight of carbonara sauce on my lips and a morsel of pig’s cheek visibly stuck to my teeth that had sent my ex-wife finally over the edge. It appears that Sylvia, more beautiful than ever, recovered her interest in men with a vengeance and embarked on a series of intense, amorous liaisons – her self- esteem having miraculously sprouted after she left me.

P.S. I had taken my precious bottle of Krug 89 all the way to Rome fully anticipating Sylvia and I would be would be drinking this elixir on one of the king-size beds of the Splendide Royal. It would have to wait for another occasion.

Two of a Kind
Today I am sixty-three and I haven’t seen Jakub since I was forced to move into a tiny flat in another part of the town. An ominous sense of tranquillity has descended on me like a thick blanket – warm and suffocating. Wondering if this is the start of old age I hurry to the mirror. My hair, which I dye once a fortnight, has receded dramatically. My teeth are yellowing. My upper body flabby. My stomach, supported by implausibly skinny legs, sticks out after a lifetime of gorging on cheap wine and take-away food.

With a heavy heart I Google “When is one old?”. The search engine tells me I have two years of relative youth left. This cheers me up no end and soon, over baked beans and brown sauce, I make a list of things to do before it’s too late.

After visiting the dentist my teeth are sparkling white. A few weeks at the gym and my upper body shows the beginning of muscular development, my stomach is slowly getting smaller. My haircut is expensive and according to Lorraine, my flashy new hairdresser, grey makes me look successful and distinguished. I have bought an iPhone and started to delve into the baffling world of online dating.

With a heavy heart I Google “When is one old?”.

Tomorrow I am dining with an attractive woman by the name of Diana I met on a new-fangled dating-site called ‘Masquerade’. She seems coy, eager to please and lists her hobbies as: lingerie, make-up and high heels. Not wanting to trip over the same stone I send her a nude photo fully expecting never to hear from her again. She replies immediately suggesting we meet this very weekend.

P.S. I immediately bring out my precious champagne and give it a good dusting. I place it in my tiny fridge all the time wondering if Diana will be keen on vintage Krug.

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