Nothing to compare to Guido

In my first blog I explained it was initially the physical attraction which drew Guido and me together. On the drawing board we would not work.  He loves cars, running, extreme sports, football and Spanish beer. And, probably in that order. He practically sounds straight. With the exception of drinking the occasional San Miguel none of those things interest me in the slightest. I am surprised we have lasted as long as we have. We might each have our own likes and dislikes but I have to tell you it is great dating a chef.  With possibly the exception of being a Russian oligarch, I wouldn’t want Guido to do anything else for a living. Honestly, how many guys have you ever met before who fret over the consistency of their churros or come to bed on a wet Sunday afternoon smelling of roast beef?

Before Guido I had only had one other (serious) relationship.  Though please note how I’ve put the word, serious, in parentheses.  There was no back list of boyfriends to compare notes on so there was no bench marker.   This makes me sound alarmingly virginal, which I was not.  The half-baked liaison I am referring to was with a guy called Coleman. If I had my interior designer hat on and was forced to describe Coleman as a colour then he would be a pale and unassuming beige. I don’t know what it is about London but my experience of dating here is that you are statistically more likely to get asked out by someone who has the capacity to be a.) a deranged serial killer, or, b.) a crashing bore. Coleman fell into the latter category. 

Looking back I suppose it could have been worse. I could have been hacked to death with a machete before now. But, as my mother used to say at great length at the time, “beggars cannot be choosers.”

Coleman was an accountant and looked after money belonging to other people but told me he was utterly useless at looking after his own.  Or so he said. I think this was to make me believe that he was penniless despite the fact that on our first date he told me that he had just bought a two bedroom semi with a garage in Kensal Rise. So for starters that particular spreadsheet column did not add up. If any of you have ever been to Kensal Rise you will know that owning a semi there with a garage is the stuff of property dreams.

On our first date Coleman and I went to a Chinese restaurant in Soho and we ordered dim sum. Afterwards I insisted that we split the bill and go Dutch. On a first date I always used to insist on going Dutch. That was so that there was no sense of obligation for either party to have to agree to have sex afterwards just because somebody had the decency to buy you spring rolls. After dinner we walked to a pub by Trafalgar Square and I politely bought him a drink and then he politely bought me a drink and then he took me back to his place and we had sex in his semi. On our second date we went to an Italian restaurant in Soho and I remember we ordered seafood linguine. Afterwards Coleman insisted we split the bill and go Dutch. We dispensed with polite drinks and instead we just went back to his place and got straight down to sex. As you now see this does not make me sound in the slightest virginal; quite the opposite in fact. I am making myself sound like a right slapper. But, as my mother used to say at great length at the time, “do not look a gift horse in the mouth” and this particular one had a semi with a garage in Kensal Rise.

For the entire time Coleman and I were together we only ever went Dutch with money. This will re-enforce the old cliché that all accountants are tight when it comes to opening their wallets and that I was completely desperate when I was single and would date anyone, even if listening to him speak was like wearing headphones switched to a permanent white noise loop.  He once booked a table at My Old Dutch in High Holborn. It will not come as any surprise to you to know that this is a Dutch restaurant. Afterwards when we were out on the pavement he actually said “We have just gone Dutch at My Old Dutch.” He thought that was one of the funniest things he had ever said and I have to say as his punch lines used to go it was certainly one of his better ones. You can see why our relationship was doomed from the start.

After sex on a first date I would never ever dream of snooping around the home of the person I had just had sex with but after sex on a second date I think it should be made compulsory. As an interior designer I feel this gives you a more rounded picture of the general tastes of the person you are sleeping with. So whilst Coleman was in the shower I threw open his wardrobe doors and unexpectedly came face to face with a suit of armour. It was man size. It was the last thing I had expected to see. Until I flipped up the visor I was a bit worried I was going to find someone still in it – like one of his old boyfriends – shrivelled up and half starved to death. I shut the door and got back into bed and tried not to think about protective metal clothing and why on earth Coleman had some in his cupboard. On our third date we did not bother with international dining or drinks near Trafalgar Square. Instead we went to his place and, although I now knew he was in possession of armour in his wardrobe, I had sex with him again.

Afterwards, I sat up in bed casually flicking through the most recent edition of Chartered Accountancy Monthly .

“So, Coleman, what is with the suit of armour in your wardrobe?”

“Oh it is a hobby of mine,” he said casually as if it was like licking postage stamps into an album, “Anything to do with the Tudor period ideally. I go to re-enactments and, although I have not done it yet, I quite like the idea of having a joust.” You know what? I really had not seen that one coming. “Now I have a garage, I have someplace to securely store a pole,” he added.

I see,” I said, not seeing the harm in it but not thinking for a moment that we would be dating long enough for me to actually attend a Tudor re-enactment nor realising that if we did that Coleman would be expecting me to wear the suit of armour myself.

He said he could not wear it on account of the fact that it was too tight a fit as he played rugby scrum half position on a weekly basis and therefore had considerably more muscular thighs than your average Tudor man ever did.

Unfortunately I did appear to be Tudor man sized and the armour looked to be a perfect all round fit for me. 

Of course, a couple of weeks later, the inevitable happened and Coleman brought up the subject of Henry VIII.

There is a Tudor re-enactment in Essex at the weekend. There are going to be some re-enacted beheadings – do you fancy coming along?

It was a great offer but I utterly refused to wear that armour. On our fourth date Coleman had tested out the helmet on my head and I instantly knew how the man in the iron mask must have felt. Nor could I think of anything more crippling than wearing the whole contraption whilst sitting erect and motionless in Coleman’s Fiat Panda all the way to Billericay. However, I said I was willing to compromise and sort out some fancy dress myself.  The guy at the hire shop said I should take the easy option and suggested going down the religious or clergy route. So I turned up as Cardinal Wolsey. In the end there was not that much to a Tudor re-enactment other than walking up and down a muddy playing field with lots of men with beards wearing capes. I got to say things like “Good morning sire,” and when I went into the refreshment tent I shouted to the barmaid “Bring me a goblet of your finest burdock wine, wench,” without getting slapped across the face or accused of blatant sexual harassment. Other than that I would say the re-enacted beheadings were probably the highlight of that particular day. At least in Tudor times it would have been quick. Which is more than I can say for the dying days of my relationship with Coleman. In the final analysis I would say our relationship boiled down to a lot of sex and tedious debates about the benefits of double entry book keeping.

I do sometimes think about Coleman and wonder whether any of his later sexual conquests were ever enticed into that armour and if they were how Coleman managed to do that and if it involved wearing it whilst they had sex in his semi. It is one of those mysteries in my life I will never know the answer to so unfortunately I cannot elaborate here any further for you.

 

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An unexpected proposal

Until very recently no one before had ever bothered to ask me to marry him – not even come close. Before Guido proposed I hadn’t really known what to expect.  Naturally it goes without saying that I had routinely fantasised about this particular marital phenomenon.  For someone like me, no detail of it could be too detailed. I’d thought about where I would be and what I would be doing.   I’d considered the benefits of it taking place somewhere in public or somewhere in private.  If it was in private I wondered if I would be wearing minimal clothing at the time and if I was just how much clothing would that involve.  I was particularly worried that if I was topless at the time how hard would I have to suck my stomach in whilst still being able to breathe long enough to answer yes, or, I do. The ponderables were limitless, trust me.   

I had also read about it in books and seen it happening to lots of characters in films and TV shows.  In books and films and TV shows this usually only ever happened to couples involving a man and a woman and almost always involved a lot of tortured preparation.  This included endless and mind numbing flicking through things like the latest Beaverbrook catalogue.  In books and films and TV shows there is also some minor calamity which crops up along the way. This is nothing serious but simply a side line plot to keep the reader or the viewer hooked and wondering if it will all turn out alright. It can be gripping or highly annoying in equal amounts depending on what you are reading or who you watching. The woman, of course, never suspects a thing. She is always such a complete dope. She never sees it coming until the guy is down on one knee or she discovers a diamond ring strategically placed like a cherry in the cream of her pavlova. In books and films and TV shows she always says yes.

When Guido asked me to marry him  I surprisingly turned out to be just like that dope who didn’t see it coming.  It was my birthday last month and he took me to lunch at The Real Greek. It’s on the south bank of the River Thames. If you are partial to small but tender mouthfuls of lamb, as I am, you will love it there. It was a warm afternoon so we chose a table on the terrace. It’s the sort of place where if you sit and dine outside almost every pedestrian who passes by on the pavement has a visible opinion about what you just happen to have on the end of your fork. Some people even stop and ask you for an in depth review. It’s like a confrontational Tripadvisor questionnaire you cannot possibly avoid. Guido ordered a bottle of wine and I immediately reminded him that my genetic make-up meant that if I drank too much in the middle of the afternoon then it would be highly likely that he may have to carry me home.  I regret to have to tell you that would not have been a first.  The memory of that particular event still makes it hard for me to walk down Bell Yard Mews even now and, funnily enough, if I am stone cold sober and happen to be thinking of cheese it isn’t any easier.  However on that particular afternoon I am pleased to report that I still managed to admirably battle through the fog of a good Rioja to see Guido take a small worn blue velvet box from his jacket pocket.  Though, you have to remember my brain was obviously parked in complete dope mode at that point.

I was talking to Rosa about your birthday present,” said Guido looking serious.   

Don’t worry, at this point you have absolutely no reason to know who Rosa is. She is Guido’s mother.  More of her later. In fact I suspect there will be much much more of her later.  

“I didn’t have a clue what gift to give you.”  This was not a surprise to me but I nodded sagely any way.  “She had this bright idea,” and he put the little box down next to my side plate.  May I just now for the record, and etched in print on the world wide web for complete posterity, say – God Bless You Rosa.  “She reminded me that my grandmother gave me this for safe keeping.” He opened the box and inside was a gold wedding band.  “My grandmother gave this to my grandfather just before their wedding.” He took it out of the box and he held it in the palm of his big hand. The ring looked really beautiful and I could see some tiny words engraved around the outside edge.” The words are Spanish,” he said, “it reads, No soy nadie sin ti, tu sin mi.” He rolled the ring around so I could see it. “Translated that means, not you without me, nor me without you.  I’d like you to have it,” he said. “Happy Birthday.” He leaned forward and kissed me. Then for a moment the ring just sat  there on the table, ominously all alone, with just a half eaten bread roll for company.

Before I could even think whether a wedding band for a birthday gift might be baffling when trying to explain it to anyone who asked, he said, “When my grandfather died my grandmother gave it to me. She always said that I should pass it on as a gift. She wished that whoever I gave it to would have as much happiness as she and my grandfather did in their marriage. They were married for more than fifty years.” At that point in the proceedings I remember Guido swigging a big gulp of wine.   Then I think I said something utterly ridiculous like, “Wow” or “Cool.” Fortunately it didn’t throw him off his stride.  “She knew whoever it was, it was going to be a man in my life. But she really didn’t care, she just wanted me to be with someone and be happy.” He smiled, “She was a great woman. I wish you could have been able to meet her.”  So had I, I would probably have married her. “The ring also got me thinking that we should make it mean something more than just a symbol. We should do that ceremony thing. You know, make us legal.”

I think I might have initially looked poleaxed. 

Ceremony thing?” I said. “As in married?” I said like an idiot, “as in you and me, as in a married couple? All legal?”  I honestly thought I could start to hear angels play harps. At the very least I heard the flutter of their tiny but steady beating wings. Guido took another big gulp of wine.

Yeah, why not?” and, right there and then between the tables, he pulled up his trouser leg and got down on one knee. Even in full on dope mode I knew what this meant.

As he was down there at my feet holding a box with a wedding ring poking out the top of it, a group of teenage Japanese tourists just happened to be strolling by in a pack. It is my experience of Japanese tourists that they always travel in a pack. If not a pack then at least a tightly formed huddle.  Up until that point they had been calmly following a tour guide waving a Union Jack umbrella aloft her head as a marker towards the general direction of Tate Modern. If you have ever strolled along the south bank of the River Thames you will know that there are lots of truly interesting and fascinating landmarks and sights and old buildings to see but I could tell that given our current position, i.e. Guido down on one knee and me staring at a wedding band in a box, none was more fascinating to them than the two of us. They stopped and started to stare – several had their mouths wide open.  I had never seen so many ipods and mobile telephones and cameras being refocused on me, rather than trained on the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. Then Guido took hold of my hand and slipped the ring on my wedding finger. “Will you marry me?” he said looking up at me, slightly worried about what I might say next.

Let me make it clear in answer to his question I immediately said yes. We also kissed. At that point the Japanese pack went wild. This involved the instigation of a Mexican Wave which unexpectedly ended up extending right through the restaurant and into the kitchen and back out again. Guido climbed back into his chair to a round of applause. An American guy at the next table leaned over and said, “Hey dudes watching that was like totally stand-out awesomeness.  Has something legally binding just gone down between you two bros?” I said I certainly hoped so but could I just point out that it had taken my boyfriend almost fifteen years to get on his knees so let’s not run before we could walk.

We drank all of the wine. I stared at the ring. We ate baklava for dessert. Then we weaved our way back to our flat above The Spanish Onion. When we got back we went upstairs and we stripped off all of our clothes and went straight to bed and had the best sex we had ever had and none of it involved having to suck in our stomachs.  Then Guido fell asleep and I just lay there next to him and listened to him breathing.

The evening sun did that thing it does where it shines round the tall buildings on either side of our flat at about four o’clock in the afternoon and then it shafts straight through the skylight above our bed. The ring on my finger felt big and twinkled. I was wearing a ring that had been worn as a sign of love for longer than I had even been alive. I looked at it and wondered if I was worthy of it. But you know what? Most of all I just lay there thinking one thing. Thinking that, at last, I felt just like a character straight right out of a book or a film or a TV show.

Guido and Me. A little bit of history

Hello, and a warm welcome to my blog.  Right now the very least I can do is begin with an introduction, and, a little bit of history just to get you up to speed on where I am at.  You can say hello too by leaving a message here. Please don’t be shy.  I’d love to get comments from you and hear some of  your own thoughts on what I am writing about along the way.

So here goes.  Guido and I are a couple.  We have been together for fifteen years. Guido sometimes describes this as 15 long years. He can’t actually speak grammatically in italics but whenever he tells people how long we have been together it definitely always has that emphasis.  It is also always in bold.  In gay terms I will concede this is a very long time. We could probably phone up the Guinness Book of Records and be in with a chance of getting our names in it as an entry.  I can just visualise something about us under a heading title along the lines of “Inexplicable Tests of Endurance.”  Length wise I think gay years are something similar to how you would work out and count out dog years.  They have more longevity than a heterosexual year. If a dog year is worth seven human years I am pretty sure a gay year must be worth at least ten. That would mean Guido and I have actually been together for 150 years and might explain quite a lot.

You may already have guessed that Guido is Spanish. His name is very Latino. His parents might as well have gone the whole hog and just called him Manuel. I am Jean-Paul and I am British.  As for my own parents, considering they are not actually French, all I can say is they showed an uncharacteristic flash of imagination with me on the naming front. Needless to say this has meant that for as long as I can remember I am routinely asked whether I am named after that famous Gallic actor or a highly admired and much loved, but unfortunately dead, Pope.

I am an interior designer.  I know, I know, its a gay cliché but what can I tell you.  I wear the colour pink a lot too.  There are just some things you have to mentally get over.  I was working in central London fifteen years ago designing the lobby and bar of a hotel in Bermondsey when I stopped by at a small café called The Spanish Onion. It was just around the corner. I was hungry and I wanted a sandwich. Sorry to sound so dramatic but little did I know that my quest for something as simple as lunch would alter the entire course of my whole life. It looked like a cute little place.  It was dinky and dark and there was a big plastic Spanish onion hanging above the entrance door – there still is. I remember it was swinging wildly in the wind. It was when I got inside and reached the chiller cabinet that I saw Guido for the first time. I had long suspected my gay radar needed recalibrating but let’s just say I definitely heard the distinctive sound of a submarine sonar bleep. His whole look stopped me in my tracks.

Guido becomes a bit of an oxymoron after you get past his name. He is atypical to the Spanish mould. He is six feet five inches tall. He has hands the size of frying pans and feet as big as silver platters. He has blue eyes and blonde hair long enough to pull back into a pony tail. Instead of owning a bistro in South London he looks like he should be throwing the javelin for the next German olympic squad. He told me quite a bit later that when he was a child his parents used to take him back to Spain to visit relatives in Malaga and he felt like Gulliver on a trip to Lilliput.

When he speaks Spanish he sounds Spanish but when he speaks English he sounds like a London cockney. When I saw him I was like one of those rabbits transfixed in the headlights just before they become what is commonly known as road kill.

I didn’t know it at the time but the café had been owned by his parents for years and he had just taken over responsibility as they had decided to retire to down town Dulwich. If I had gone in a few weeks earlier Guido probably wouldn’t have been there, so I was lucky our paths crossed. Perhaps someone up there likes me. Let’s just say our eyes met over an olive ciabatta.

I can tell you Guido was very generous with the pesto filling.