I've been away too long, a busy life has dragged me away. But just to let you all know that I am still alive and kicking, here is a simple little story. No sex in this one.
I was sitting at the bar of the Holiday Inn in Eindhoven, Holland. It was about 9:30 on a Thursday evening in November and I'd just come out of the restaurant, and was sipping my beer and watching the world go by. A guy came and sat on the next bar stool, I glanced his way. He looked the average travelling businessman. More handsome than many I had to admit. I would guess he was a couple of years younger than me and probably an inch taller, which would make him around 32 or 33 and 6'1". The really sickening thing was that he was not only about 50 pounds lighter than me, but he was one of those slim loose limbed individuals who can wear rags and make them look Savile Row. I used to be like that once, but in the last few years I've spent too many evenings in the bar, too many beers on those evenings, and too much fast food when I needed to eat, so I wasn't loose limbed and graceful anymore.
I went back to staring at my beer and wondering if I was brave enough to tell my boss exactly what he could do with his job when I gave him my trip report on Monday morning. And whether giving up this job would be the first step towards building a new life that I so desperately needed. Damn bloody Dominic Taylor, that was the name she'd said, that was the name of the man she was about to marry. That was the name of the man who had dashed any hopes I had for happiness.
But then my neighbour caught my ear: "Just for change, Dunk, I'll have a beer this evening" he said cheerfully to the barman.
The barman smiled, "Just for a change!" and he drew a glass of amber liquid and placed it in front of my neighbour. "And just for a change you want it on your room tab, Sir?" I could hear the nasal twang of Australia in Dunk's voice.
"Why not? Just for a change!" said my neighbour.
I turned to him, "You're a regular then?"
He turned to me, "I have been. Every other week for the last two months, but this is my last week. How about you? I haven't seen you in here before."
"No I usually stay in the Crowne. I have done for one night every four months for eight years. So I thought I'd stay here - just for a change." I replied, with emphasis to echo his phrase.
He smiled at my acknowledgement of his little joke. "One night every four months for eight years? It sounds as if the change was long overdue. What do you do that brings you here on that sort of routine? My name's Nick, by the way." And he held out his hand.
I shook his hand, "Thomas." I introduced myself.
We both sipped our beers, and then I answered his question, "Street furniture. I work for a manufacturer of street furniture. Lamp posts, traffic signs, traffic lights, you name it. It's a pretty basic commodity and the orders are fairly steady, but every now and then there is a big project. We have to look after our clients, who are usually local councils and road contractors, and my patch is Holland; Germany, that's the big one; and Belgium. So once a month I come over from London for a week. The first month it's North Germany, next month it's Holland, next it's back for South Germany, and then Belgium in the fourth month and I'm back to the cycle with North Germany after that. One day in a big city, part schmoozing, part telling them what we've got coming up and checking on their thinking, and the next day onto the next city. Today it was Breda and tomorrow it will be here in Eindhoven. What about you?"
"I'm in computers. I've been installing a system here. But the client has accepted it, all the training is done, so my job's finished and its over to the maintenance and client support people from Monday." He paused and looked at me, "I've only been doing it for a couple of months, I don't think I could do it for eight years, I guess you enjoy it."
I smiled and shook my head, "I used to, but I think I've just about got to the end of the road."
I drained my glass, and caught the barman's eye as I pushed my glass forward. As Dunk took it I glanced around at my new friend, he was staring at a pretty girl, blonde about 25, who was sitting reading a paperback in the corner. I knew what he was thinking; there was a time in my life when I'd have been thinking it too.
I turned back as Dunk delivered my new glass of beer. He looked at Nick and noted where Nick was staring, and then glanced at me with a knowing look. "And another one for you Sir?" He asked crisply, demanding that Nick take his eye off the girl.
"Oh! Er ... Yes please, Dunk." And Nick turned to me, obviously trying to gather his thoughts before he had been distracted, "Had enough then? Time for a change?"
I smiled wryly, "I should never have started. Accepting this job was the biggest mistake of my life. But I thoroughly enjoyed it for the first five years. Once a month I had a week away from home, good hotels and travelling on expenses, the taste of another life. Great. For the last three years I just haven't had the will-power to actually quit."
Nick was still surreptitiously glancing at the girl. Dunk returned and stood squarely at the bar looking at Nick, "Are they giving you a leaving party tomorrow, Sir? Or are you sneaking away back to your girl? After last weekend you two must have plenty to plan and talk about."
Nick turned and looked at Dunk, and then he smiled sheepishly, "I think it's my big weekend last week that might be making me want to forget about it for a couple of hours tonight."
I didn't understand this conversation, but I could hazard a guess, and it was obvious that Dunk didn't want Nick to stray tonight.
Dunk looked at me and there was urgent desperation in his eyes, "Why don't you tell him your story of travelling, Sir?" and then he turned back to Nick, "You should listen to this tale, I can recommend it."
Nick looked at Dunk and then at me, "I thought this was your first night here. Do you know Dunk from somewhere?"
Dunk was looking at me with even greater desperation, so I said, "Sure. Didn't you know that Duncan did a spell behind the bar of the Crowne before he came here?" I lied, praying that Dunk was a Duncan.
Dunk smiled with relief, and Nick seemed to accept both my explanation and his fate, and he sat back on his stool. He sipped his beer and then looked at me, "OK, so what's the story?"
I sipped my beer, and I wondered if I was meant to make something up to put him off chatting up girls in bars. Maybe I should make up some story where I declare myself HIV positive or something and all the result of picking up a girl in some bar. But actually my true story might work and at least keep his attention long enough for the temptation to go up to her room or for her boyfriend to arrive or something.
I took another sip, and turned to Nick and smiled, "My story is returning from a trip like this three years ago, only it was from Belgium and it was in September. I was 33 years old; I had been married about seven years by then to the most beautiful, sexy and intelligent girl in the world. I adored her." I paused and smiled, thinking of Penny, and took another sip of beer, "I'd had a pretty good bachelorhood, quite a few notches on my bed post, and then I'd met the girl of my dreams, and God, had I fallen? She was my one and only true love, she still is I guess. And by luck she'd fallen in love with me. We had a really wonderful seven years. Two years into it I'd been promoted to this job, and I was travelling one week every month on expenses, and I was loving it. Everything in my garden was rosy, very rosy. I was earning good money, so was she. We were agreed that we'd move soon from our apartment. It was a nice place, right in the centre of Winchester, if you know Winchester." Nick nodded his head in some vague acknowledgement that he had at least heard of the place, "Anyway, we planned to move to something a bit more family orientated out in the country and then start a family. We were even agreed that we wanted the first one to be a boy, then a girl and number three could be pot luck."
"How old was she?" He asked, probably for no reason other than to keep the story flowing.
"Five years younger than me, so she was 28 at the time all this happened. She was 21 when I married her and I was 26, and it was the right time for me to settle down. And so I was 33 when my story took place."
"So what happened?"
"Well I've told you how much I liked doing this job in those early years. But there was a time when I really wondered if I should give it up. I knew that Penny, my wife, seemed to be having some worries or doubts about it. But, as I say, I was enjoying it, so I told her that I loved her, that she was the only girl for me and that she had absolutely no need to worry about me and she had absolutely no reason to doubt me. I reminded her that we needed the money, and that I enjoyed the job and the career opportunity." I paused to look at Nick, "I guess she had been a bit nervous and stressed about it all for a couple of months, and maybe I wasn't sensitive enough to her needs and whatever she was thinking."
Nick smiled reassuringly, "What man ever knows what a woman is thinking?"
.... There is more of this story ...