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Day thirty-five

December 5, 2016

One evening at the Labour Party Conference in September 2004, I went outside for a fag and ended up talking to a bloke who came out a minute later for the same reason. Turned out he actually worked on the opposite side of the issue on which I was at that time campaigning. This didn’t stop us chatting – smoking being rather more important than issues sometimes. If the Great Bear Rainforest campaign proved nothing else, it proved that there could be considerable advantages to opposing sides meeting informally from time to time. He suggested something along those lines and I took his card before we both went back inside to whatever function we’d temporarily left. The bloke wasn’t based in London, but he visited every month or two to do a bit of lobbying.

Back in London, when I told my boss about this possibility of information sharing, he was initially dubious, but decided it might be worth a go, so I arranged to have lunch with the bloke the next time he was in London. I’m not saying I didn’t share any information over the course of the lunches we had in the next few months, but, honestly, I think we got more out of it than they did.

Those lunches really weren’t much of a hardship for me. The fella was smart and funny and charming and, as I’m apparently being honest here, more than a bit sexy. So, as I said, not a work chore at all. And, again being honest, it all got a bit flirty, especially our text messages. Well, nobody sexy had been flirty with me for a while, nor had I been flirty with anyone for some time. Good clean(ish) fun, right?

We were supposed to be meeting for lunch in July 2005, but the day in question was July 7, when all hell broke loose in London thanks to four homegrown jihadists. Obviously lunch was off.

When he came back in August he suggested dinner instead of lunch. I said sure. He suggested we eat at his hotel, so he could just chuck it on expenses. We’d had at least one of our lunches at the hotel, so there was probably nothing to read into the suggestion. Or was there? To be honest again, I was fine with the idea either way. I said sure.

We got through the business part over pints before our food arrived. While we were eating dinner (bloody hell, I’ve just remembered with absolute clarity that he had a steak and I had bangers and mash), he asked me if I’d ever contemplated suicide. I’m sure there must have been some preamble to this but the question caught me off guard. Just not the sort of thing that comes up over dinner, is it? But it had and I actually answered honestly.

The summer after my mother died, during the period when I’d decided cocaine was the best treatment for grieving, I woke up one morning and found myself wondering if I had enough aspirin and other over the counter drugs in my medicine cabinet to finish myself off. I was pretty sure I did and I decided to take them. I just couldn’t face more of the crushing loneliness I’d been experiencing. I sat up in bed, about to go into the bathroom and start stuffing pills down my throat and that’s when I saw the cats curled up on the bed: Crazy Clancy and Lady Jenny (taken in when my mum died). I looked at the cats and thought about the fact that there was no one who would worry enough about not getting me on the phone for a few days to demand the building manager open the door. So I would be there until the smell from the apartment got so bad that it seeped into the hall and alerted neighbours.  By that time, of course, Clancy and Jenny would have been reduced to eating me in order to stay alive. And that thought, the thought of being discovered, a stinking corpse half eaten by her cats was more depressing than the thought of staying alive. I guess Clancy and Jenny saved my life.

And so I told this man that story, surprising myself with my honesty. Then I asked if he’d ever considered it and he said yes, on more than one occasion. He had at various points in his life, he told me, suffered from crippling depression and that’s where the black dog tended to lead him. (It was the first time I’d heard depression referred to that way.) He’d somehow always pulled back from the abyss, but generally with a longing look back over his shoulder.

We didn’t stay in that dark zone for long, moving on to other topics in a conversation that just flowed and flowed. I’m pretty sure I already knew from one of our lunches that he was on his third marriage, living on a farm in Wales with said wife and their yours, mine and ours family: her daughter from a previous marriage, his son and their young daughter, but I know he did talk that night about his family. I told him, more honestly than I generally did when asked, about Mike and the damage my relationship with him had done to me. We’d both started out working in journalism. We talked about that. We talked and talked.

At one point when he was going to the bar for another round of drinks, he asked if I’d like a whisky to go with my pint. I said no, that if I started on the whisky I’d have to get a cab home, which I couldn’t really afford. I’d stick with a pint. When that round was nearly done, I got up to got to the loo. When I came back there was a fresh pint and a whisky waiting for me. I looked at the whisky. I looked at him. I knew – and he knew – exactly what drinking that whisky would mean. It would mean I wasn’t going anywhere when the pub closed. I picked up the whisky and took a sip.

That wasn’t the first time since I’d been back in London that I’d had sex, but it was hands down the best sex I’d had. In fact, it was the best sex I’d had since before I met Mike. It was a long, long time since I’d had that kind of hungry, passionate sex. No, I’m not going to go into details. I do know there is such a thing as too much information. Suffice to say, we had sex, we slept for a while, we woke up, we made love, we slept for a while, then I woke up at 6am. As much as I was enjoying lying in bed in the arms of this man, I knew I was going to have to get up and find that taxi to to take me home after all. Everyone knew when I’d left for work the previous day that I was going to have dinner with my “contact”. I couldn’t turn up the next day in the same clothes. I started to get dressed. He surprised me by getting up and getting dressed, too. I told him he didn’t have to, but he insisted on going out with me in the early morning to find a cab.

His hotel was in Westminster. The roads were empty as we set off, hand in hand, in search of a cab. We had to walk all the way to Parliament Square, which is where I had a perfect London moment.

Even as it was unfolding I saw it for that: a perfect moment to be pressed into my personal memory book. Thursday morning, 6:15 by Big Ben’s clock. The air was crisp, there was still dew on the grass of the square. It was light, but the sun had not properly risen and the sky was not yet any discernible colour. There was almost no traffic, mostly red double decker buses. The lone anti-war protester, able to defy the Government’s anti-demonstration legislation, because he’d been there long before it was passed (a freak grandfather clause missed by Blair and his minions), was asleep on a ledge. And I was standing there, holding hands with a man with whom I’d just made lovely love, looking for a black cab to take me home.


Big Ben, double decker buses, black cabs. I felt as if I was in a bloody Richard Curtis film. It was as much as I could do not to laugh out loud with delight. In fact, I probably did laugh out loud, because it was so delightful, how could I not?

Eventually a black cab chugged into sight and I hailed it. As it was pulling up, this man said, “I want you to know that wasn’t something I make a habit of doing.” Well, as Christine Keeler once famously said, he would say that, wouldn’t he? But I believed him. I told him it wasn’t something I made a habit of either. He kissed me, I got into the cab, told the driver the address and sank back into the seat feeling happier than I had felt in years.

And that, dear reader, concludes Part One. I could easily write about this all day, even though the pure delight ended that morning, but I have places to go, people to see, cakes to ice. So I shall have to continue with this tale tomorrow.




From → Black dog diary

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