A few weeks ago I wrote a guest blog for Harper Impulse about the three romantic gestures that have meant more to me than any number of crushed carnations or slightly damaged Terry's chocolate oranges. You can have a look at it here.
Now, that post was slightly out of character for me, as regular readers may spot. I'm not usually one to dwell on the sweet and fluffy side of life. So, on the flip side, here is my alternative 'Romantic gestures that went totally tits up'
I'll kick off with the Saturday night that Alistair cooked dinner for us. It was the first time he'd really cooked for me (as opposed to just heating things up) and he slaved his squidgy buttocks off. There was a starter, chicken, roast potatoes, veg, pudding, wine (sadly, he'd bought dessert wine which was grimly undrinkable, but still). The chicken had a slight aftertaste to it, but I thought that was probably the sauce/herbs he'd used.
The following morning I had a stupidly early start, at half past five or something equally horrific, to receive a delivery. Standing in the office, talking sleepily to the chatty delivery driver, I became aware that I didn't feel quite right, somehow. And as the chatty delivery driver said 'Well, must get on, can't be standing here all day' (but making no attempt to leave) I had the horrifying realisation that I really, really had to get to the toilet NOW. I pretty much bundled the driver out of the office, pelted down the corridor and just, just made it to the loo on time. Within thirty seconds, I knew I was going to be sick. So I grabbed the bin and made use of that. Twenty minutes later, I limped back to our flat (about five seconds from the office) and repeated the experience in our bathroom.
My efforts were not without a soundtrack, and soon enough Ali appeared in the bathroom doorway. 'You ok?' 'Noooooaararrggghh.' We'd only been together for a few months, but I was feeling so terrible I didn't care that he was seeing me at possibly my lowest point, ever, pebbledashing the loo and dryheaving into a plastic office bin.
Oh, but it gets worse. Ali was feeling fine, so we put my D&V down to some bug I must have picked up. He was off to do some Christmas shopping with his sister that morning, which was a relief – I could shit out my own sphincter in peace whilst they chose something tasteful for their parents. Until Alistair came home very rapidly, less than an hour after departing, and went straight into the bathroom. He'd been suddenly overcome with feeling unwell in Marks & Spencer. Specifically in the foodhall of Marks & Spencer. In fact, he'd projectile vomited all over the floor in the foodhall of Marks & Spencer, in front of very many horrified Christmas shoppers.
In between lying delicately on the sofa and vomiting yellow bile into buckets, we weakly wondered what had caused us to get so ill. Ali had cooked the chicken for at least 40 minutes! 'What, did you buy it fresh on Saturday afternoon?' I asked. 'No... the stuff that was in the freezer.' 'Did you defrost it?' I asked slowly. 'No...It just said to cook it for about 30 minutes?'
Yes. He'd cooked the chicken from frozen. And nearly bastardly killed us in the process. That said, it brought us closer together. You can't hide much from someone who's seen you with food poisoning from both ends.
I think this next one is my favourite in terms of just how badly wrong a boy can get it. Aged 14, I was in the midst of my summer job (really do need to explain this to you at some point). Surrounded by older people for the majority of my life, I looked and acted older than my years and was sometimes thought to be as old as 16 (even 17! My cup runneth over). I'd been eyeing up a French guy for a week or two, and as these teenage things tend to happen, one night he asked for a light, and within a few seconds we were snogging. No more than that. A tiny bit of conversation, a few snogs, back to our friends. Then later, a few more seconds of discussion, a few more snogs, back to friends. For possibly three nights? Certainly no more than that. Then he went back home to France, and that was that.
Except it wasn't. A week later, a letter arrived (written on the weird graph paper that all continental Europeans seemed to use as writing paper at the time). It began 'Hello, my pretty little Lucy...' and continued in that vein for four pages. It read as though Pepe le Pew had put pen to paper and needed only a beret and matelot jersey to complete the image. I could not fail to read it in the most ridiculously over the top Frrrrrronchhhhhh accent imaginable. It was full of how much he missed me, how he had told his parents all about me, they wanted to meet me, perhaps I could come out and spend my Christmas holidays with them? Or he could come to the UK and stay with my family? Perhaps he could go to college in the UK? He could not bear to be without me a moment longer, surely I must feel the same?
I took the only course of action available to me. I didn't reply to his letter. Which was slightly awkward when he turned up the following summer with a group of friends. So we both just ignored each other for the four weeks he was there, and everything was fine.
A thankfully brief memory – round at the house of a teenage boyfriend. He's fiddling with the CD player in the living room, then gestures to me to come and dance with him. I get up, awkwardly. 'Can you feel the love tonight' comes over the speakers. I burst out laughing raucously at the naffness of it all, and the idea of dancing to a song about shagging lions.
He gets into a massive huff at my lack of appreciation for his big romantic gesture. End of teenage boyfriend.
And then, my very, very worst. The lowest of all lows. The moment when I say 'Have you even met me? You have, yes? You have been my boyfriend for four months, right?'. It was my 18th birthday. A milestone, no? My then boyfriend had sodded off to Costa Rica for four months, leaving my birthday present with me, 'to be opened on the day'. Now, I think we've established I'm not a girly girl, right? Aged 17/18, I existed on Britpop, Bob Dylan, Iain Banks and Q magazine. I wore short skirts and kickarse boots, I was studying for A Levels and heavily into poetry, Monty Python and The Fast Show. Emotional, but no space/time for sentimentalism. So you can imagine my face on that hugely significant birthday morning, when I opened his present and found this.
Yes, that. A teddy bear, on a treasure chest that works as a money box. But wait! There is more!
A bunch of mascara arse mental looking frogs! For no reason! And just to round it all off with a dose of random gravy, there was a candle. A single candle. Not scented. Not interestingly made. Just a plain white candle. It was almost as though he had 25 quid to spend on a present, had spent 23.89, so threw in a bonus candle to take him up to to budget.
There was not a single thing there that indicated that, at any point, he had actually thought of me as his recipient, and what I might like. It was the type of thing your slightly unhinged great aunt, who hasn't seen you for 20 years decides to send you, having never previously sent you a birthday present before. I can remember ripping the present open, in happy expectation, and then just sitting back on my heels and saying 'What. The. Actual. Fuck.' There was even a brief moment when I thought 'Ha! Has to be a joke! There will be a note inside the moneybox!' There was no note.
The moneybox did have a happy ending, however. My friends laughed so long and hard at it that it became the honorary 18th birthday present for all of us, and we passed it around, laughing until we felt sick that anyone would ever have considered appropriate for any of us. I can't remember who it ended up with, but it did provide plenty of laughs, so for that, ex-boyfriend, wherever you are, thank you. Your present was memorable in so many ways.