On with the slap in the hope I’ll be tickled

An invitation when I least expected it… how could I refuse?

Is it my face? Is it my status as a middle-aged female divorcee who drives a Vauxhall Zafira (and it doesn’t get much lower than that)? Or the fact that I work from home (very cottage industry)? People taking pity? Whatever it is, I am the recipient of huge swathes of kindly wisdom. The funny thing is, I welcome it, even if I have heard it a million times and it is all the same.

Top of the extensive list of platitudes is: ‘It’ll happen when you’re least expecting it.’ This is invariably followed by a little pause and then the addendum which has always struck me as completely random and yet is peculiarly commonplace: ‘When you’re waiting at a bus stop.’

I have spent years waiting at bus stops least expecting it and ‘it’ still hasn’t happened. Other ‘its’ come and go (indeed, some have knocked me sideways with surprise) but not the crucial ‘it’ to which these wise owls refer.

I gave up expecting a long time ago, I tell these people. Is hope permitted instead? Oh, yes, hope is, they say. You must never give up hope. Exactly so. I am quite the funambulist at walking the gossamer thread that divides hope and — God forbid! — expectation.

Once we have dispensed with Platitude No. 1, then comes the advice. Just as bus stops are popular in the platitude category, so pottery classes are in the advice one.

‘Join a pottery class,’ I am told with great sincerity. It is always pottery and I still cannot work out why. Something to do with Ghost? I hate blinking pottery and all the classes are full of middle-aged divorced women who have taken to heart the advice given to middle-aged divorced women everywhere, but which the seasoned among us know is useless.

‘OK, so go walking in the Himalayas.’ This does not appeal. I am not one of life’s walkers, especially uphill, and it seems to me that altitude sickness and dayglo clothes that crunch as you move are not exactly conducive to ‘it’.

‘OK, so go to everything you’re invited to.’ This last would seem to make sense, though it is no guarantee of anything. I have had it repeated to me so often that I now go to everything (parties, cafés, bus stops) and feel jangly and guilty if I can’t be arsed. Sometimes, the not being arsed is because of exhaustion after having gone out five nights on the trot. Or because I know that said event will be filled with couples and women like me and, while I enjoy that a lot of the time, there is only so much one can take. Then again, how often have I heard the story of someone who so nearly didn’t go to a party, forced herself and — tra la — met The One! And she always declares afterwards, darkly: ‘Can you imagine if I hadn’t been bothered?’

So it was that when a friend rang me after eight one evening last week and urgently whispered a demand to join her dinner party, I went. I had already eaten unfashionably early with the teenagers and was slumped on my bed in my dressing gown, looking forward to another tryst deep into the night with the wondrous Karl Ove Knausgaard and his struggle. Knackered. No make-up. A sight. Last thing on earth I wanted to do was leave my house. But my friend said a woman had dropped out last minute and the man she had earmarked for her might do for me. It might be ‘fate’, she said. A whining voice inside me kept saying: ‘You never know.’ You have no make-up on and were about to polish off Karl Ove’s Volume Four, so you were officially least expecting it. You should go!’

I squeezed into an age-inappropriate dress, smeared on too much eye-make up and strode into the cold night.

The man and I locked eyes, and we both knew. Instantaneously. That it was pointless. He was civil enough, but marbled with misogyny and a dislike of children. I detected a coldness about him beneath the gunked cogs of social politeness. I may have read between the lines wrongly, but my interpretation at least seemed accurate, and it chilled me. On every subject we broached, there was not a meeting of minds.

A smidgen of (permitted) hope had forced me out of my dressing gown, but I’d carefully steered clear of expectation and its partner disappointment. I did the ‘right’ thing and will doubtless do it again. Yet still I would have been better off staying in bed with Knausgaard.


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