Table of ContentsBRAND NEW FRIEND
Copyright © 2005 Mike Gayle
First published in Great Britain in 2005 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK Company
The right of Mike Gayle to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental
Epub ISBN 978 1 84894 160 1
Book ISBN 978 0 34082 540 2
Hodder and Stoughton
An Hachette UK Company
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For monkey two
A huge debt of thanks is owed to the following: Phil Pride, Sara Kinsella and everyone at Hodder, Euan Thorneycroft and everyone at Curtis Brown, Jane Bradish-Ellames, the Monday-night footballers, the Sunday-night pub people, Jackie and Mark for the northern-based fact-checking, Emma and Darren for introducing me to Chorlton, Asif (because I missed you out last time), Danny Wallace (for being Danny Wallace), everyone at the Board, everyone who has dropped me a line in the last year (you’ve helped considerably), all my old friends and all my new ones too, my wife, Claire, and the rest of my family, and anyone whose sofa I have crashed on in the past (especially you, Dave).
(Principally concerning Eskimos)
A man, a woman and a discussion about Eskimos
‘Do you want to hear an interesting fact?’ said Jo. ‘Eskimos apparently have over fifty different words for snow. Snow’s really important to those guys – I suppose it’s because sometimes the difference between one type and another can mean the difference between life or death.’ She paused and laughed self-consciously. ‘You know they’ve got words for dry snow and wet snow, fluffy snow and compact snow. They’ve got words for snow that comes down fast and for snow that comes down slow – they’ve thought of everything.’
‘That’s a lot of snow,’ commented Rob as his eyes flicked to a scruffy-looking mongrel crossing the road in front of them, oblivious to the night bus hurtling towards it. It only narrowly missed being hit, but continued coolly on its journey to the bin outside the off-licence, which it sniffed studiously, then cocked a leg against.
‘So, what’s your point?’ asked Rob.
‘Well, it’s like this,’ replied Jo. ‘If Eskimos can come up with fifty words for snow because it’s a matter of life or death, why is it that we’ve only got one word for “love”?’
(Principally concerning a big move)
Rob waits for his girlfriend
The events that led up to Rob Brooks discussing love, Eskimos and snow with someone who wasn’t his girlfriend Ashley Mclntosh while sitting on a damp kerb outside an off-licence in South Manchester had orginated in a solitary event that had taken place roughly a year and a half earlier in a house in Tooting, south London.
It was Friday in July, just after nine o’clock, and Rob, a thirty-two-year-old graphic designer was sitting on his sofa in the house he shared, staring at the clock on the wall. He was waiting for his girlfriend to arrive from Manchester so that he could complete his transformation from part-time single bloke to dutiful full-time boyfriend. Rob had been working towards it – with him going to Manchester or her coming to London – every other weekend for the last three years. It was like living two lives, one in which he was a bachelor and another in which he was a fully paid-up member of the Couple Club. And although it had been fine in the early days, the older he got the harder it was to sustain the effort involved maintaining this type of relationship.
To Rob’s mind, the Long Distance Relationship was for young people or, to be more exact, people in their twenties who had the kind of wired energy required for a cross-country love affair, which he hadn’t for a long time. He was well past the age when a long-distance relationship was anything other than a big fat pain in the arse, and now he questioned the validity of any journey that wasn’t a commute to work or a taxi ride to the airport for a weekend shopping trip to New York to buy (amongst other things) the kinds of trainers, T-shirts and clothing that would impress the more fashion conscious of his friends.
Rob was convinced that it wasn’t just him who thought like this but people like him too. People who would rather spend an evening on the Internet trying to work out how to order food in than leave the comfort and safety of their homes for a real life all-singing all-dancing store. It might seem ridiculous to order groceries on a computer, but, in these cash-rich, time-poor days, it made so much sense to a busy man like Rob. So he couldn’t help but wonder that if life was too short to spend time in the supermarket it was also too short surely to spend every other weekend on the motorway while the rest of the world relaxed. But he accepted the tedium of weekend travelling as one of many things you do for love.
The cordless phone rang on the table in front of him and he answered it immediately. Maybe it was Ashley, to say she was at the front door. He knew there was little chance of that – normally she didn’t leave Manchester until after six – but he allowed himself to imagine letting her into the house, chatting to her about her day, making her a quick something to eat, then taking her to the Queen’s Head in time for last orders.
‘Hi, sweetheart,’ said Rob, into the receiver, while he ordered himself an imaginary pint. ‘Still got far to come?’
‘I’m on the M6,’ replied Ashley.
‘Which bit of it?’ he asked, trying to mask his disappointment.
There was a long pause. ‘I’ve only just gone past Stoke. There’s a huge tailback – roadworks somewhere.’
Rob did a swift calculation and worked out that his dream of last orders was dead. It would be at least midnight before she got to London, which meant that not only would they miss the pub but she would also be in a bad mood.
‘Why were you late leaving?’ asked Rob.
‘Why are you making a big deal about it?’ snapped Ashley.
‘Because I told you last night that there were roadworks on the M6 outside Birmingham and that if you were late leaving you’d get stuck in loads of traffic.’
‘Well, you were right.’
‘I don’t want to be right,’ he said, no longer bothering to hide his exasperation. ‘I just wanted you to take my advice and leave a bit earlier. If you had you’d be here, not sitting in miles of traffic.’
There was a click and the line went dead. She’d put the phone down on him. Rob watched the clock in silence. He hadn’t meant to get annoyed so quickly. And the last thing he needed was for the weekend to get off to a bad start yet again. I’ll have to call her back, he thought, but before he could, the phone rang again. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I’m sorry. Okay? Let’s forget what just happened and start again.’
‘Sorry for what?’ said a gruff northern voice that Rob recognised immediately. It was Phil, his friend, house-mate and co-director of their two-year-old web-design consultancy, clUNKEE mUNKEE.
‘In trouble with the missus, are we?’ asked Phil, laughing.
‘Sort of,’ conceded Rob, taking in the background noise at the other end of the line. He could hear talking, laughing and music – classic Friday-night-in-the-pub ambience. He felt strangely sad.