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The Love Secrets of Don Juan


  PENGUIN BOOKS

  The Love Secrets of Don Juan

  ‘Funny, sad, desperate… a great read. I whizzed through this novel. Horrifying, fascinating, psychologically compelling and very well-told’ Scotsman

  ‘Unnerving, thought-provoking, provocative’ Good Housekeeping

  ‘Compelling, very readable’ Sunday Telegraph

  ‘Angry, funny, invigorating. All-too-believable… to be relished’ Literary Review

  ‘An uncomfortably acute insight into contemporary life and a blackly funny howl of despair’ Metro

  ‘The jolliest book I’ve read in a long time. Lott delivers depth with lightness… packed with witty apercus that make you either pause and laugh, pause and consider your own life, or both. A book for every bedroom’ Spectator

  ‘Rather brave. Lott is very good at depicting male friendship’ Sunday Times

  ‘Scorching… wise and well-written’ Daily Telegraph

  ‘Readable, funny and humane, well-paced and well-observed. A war report from the battle of the sexes’ Times Literary Supplement

  ‘It hits every emotional button of English urban male middle age by way of jolting flashbacks to teens, twenties and thirties. Laced with a devastatingly overarching irony’ The Times

  ‘Smile-a-page, comic, twinge-a-page, cringe-a-page, throw-yourself-under-the-next-train-a-page’

  Sunday Herald

  ‘Meticulously honest and self-ridiculing. Lott deals dextrously with the maudlin melancholia of male mid-life crises and maps the terrain of damaged, sceptical loners and lovers with courage and clarity’ Uncut

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Tim Lott was born in Southall, Middlesex in 1956. He attended Greenford Grammar School and Harlow Technical College, after which he joined the local newspaper. He subsequently worked as a pop music journalist, a publisher and an entrepreneur. In 1983 he attended the London School of Economics as a mature student and achieved a degree in history and politics, after which he worked as a magazine editor and a TV producer before turning to writing. He is author of The Scent of Dried Roses, which was awarded the 1996 J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography, White City Blue, winner of the 1999 Whitbread First Novel Award, and a second novel, Rumours of a Hurricane, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread novel of the year. All are published by Penguin. He is divorced, has three daughters and lives in north-west London.

  tim lott

  the love secrets of don juan

  PENGUIN BOOKS

  PENGUIN BOOKS

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia

  Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

  Penguin Books India (P) Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India

  Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, Cnr Rosedale and Airborne Roads, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  www.penguin.com

  Published by Viking 2003

  Published in Penguin Books 2004

  4

  Copyright © Tim Lott, 2003

  All rights reserved

  The moral right of the author has been asserted

  Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

  ISBN: 978-0-141-92172-3

  For Rachael

  1

  This is how it feels to be me.

  Imagine yourself standing on the wrong side of a high brick wall erected across a pitted, unmaintained highway. Now imagine that highway is your life. It’s raining. You don’t have a ladder. And it’s getting dark.

  This is what being me has come down to. Who put me here? They did, of course.

  Here – to wrench myself from the figurative into the literal – being this small bedsit in Acton, West London, lacking enough space to put up my six-year-old daughter for an overnight stay. Without enough money to buy her a trip to the cinema. Without enough stuffing in me to want her here anyway, since to see her father like this, so bitterly shrunken, cannot be a good thing. And I want good things for her. Not bad things – bad things like me.

  They put me here. Bad things like me. When was this person conceived? This martyred, myopic, self-pitying shadow. Thinking the kind of thing they would think. Saying the kind of thing they would say.

  Them. They. Me. I. How coy. And I have always ventured to be straightforward. So allow me to be frank. Women put me here, capital ‘W’.

  Allow me to be still more frank. They didn’t put me here by themselves. I helped. Bad choices, lack of courage, a wilful inability to see straight, selfishness, insensitivity.

  Call me Spike. It’s been my nickname since I was thirteen years old, although of course I wasn’t aware of its Freudian implications then. Am I angry? I’m not angry. Not any more. I’ve been angry. God knows I have, angry enough to get myself the old Uzi sub, shin up that water tower and start popping away. Take that, honey. How’s that for a big kiss, Toots? Blam. But I’m not angry, not any more. I’m just old. Old and sad, and I want the battle to end. I want us all to be friends. I want us to understand one another.

  I’m old and sad and I’m surprisingly naïve.

  My name is Daniel ‘Spike’ Savage, and I am a man.

  (Pause for shouts, handclaps, ‘Way to go Spike, thanks for sharing with the group.’)

  Middle-aged, although it shocks me to say as much. Sometimes nowadays I feel much older. I’ve been separated from my wife, Beth, for more than a year, so I’m single now in an impure way. My daughter, Poppy, has curly hair, almond-shaped eyes and a birthmark the shape of a frog on her elbow. I love her. Except that the word love feels too small for the emotion.

  All the words ever, together, feel too small.

  Professionally I’m successful-ish, but not so successful as I once was. I’m in advertising. I weave dreams around everyday objects. I blow things up to larger than their actual size.

  Not so successful as I once was. That’s putting it mildly. Once I worked for BMW, Gap, Levi’s. Now my main account is for a low-budget chain of supermarkets, and a particularly foul-smelling brand of dog food, and toilet paper, the hard sort that they barely make any more. Imagine having to come up with a slogan for that.

  What went wrong with my career? I stopped believing in it. It’s like marriage. Once you stop believing in the product you’re dead.

  I’ve got a good family – my mum and dad, Iris and Derek, are still alive, albeit in a semi-retired sort of way, and my (also-divorced) older brother, Sam, is very much alive in an up-yours-I’ve-got-my-own-problems way. We get along as well as any family does. I like them, on the whole. Or, at least, I don’t actively dislike them. Or, at least, not all the time.

  Here on the westernmost drift of central London, the dull double-glazed terraces face out towards the lusher suburbia of Chiswick and Ealing. I used to live in Hammersmith, and before that Shepherd’s Bush, so I’m gradually being edged outwards, by some impersonal historical force, towards the final oblivion that is Pitshanger, or beyond that, beyond West Ealing, to the town I grew up in: Hanwell. I can imagine mysel
f sometimes in twenty, perhaps ten, years’ time, sitting in some overlit café called the Coffee Pot, or the Copper Kettle, in a shopping mall, eating baked beans and smelling of packet soup, trying to engage reluctant strangers in violently inconsequential chat. If I am still writing advertisements then, it will be for chatlines and local Indian restaurants.

  What else? Oh, yes, I’m lonely, and sometimes I’m desperate and want to die. But it passes.

  Everything passes. Even the belief that everything passes, passes.

  So next week, I’m going out on a date – in the hope that the collapse of my belief in the future will pass. I’m aware that you’re meant to feel great about yourself before you start dating. I know that you only find someone when you’re not looking, when you don’t care. But that’s unrealistic. Everybody cares. Nobody feels great about themselves. The thing is to learn to pretend. To learn to lie.

  A date – with a woman. A woman and me. After all I’ve been through with them. After all the seconds, minutes, weeks, months and years of my life I’ve squandered, all the mental space that’s been taken up, all the pain and chaos that’s been generated.

  There’s an installation I once saw where the artist filled up a garden shed with junk, blew it up with explosives, photographed it, then re-created the whole thing as a static object – detritus flying everywhere but held still in space. That’s where I’m at. At the still edges of a never-ending explosion. And still I try to turn back towards the unstable centre. As if seeking movement, entropy. Why do it? What’s the point? Perhaps, at the very centre of the centre, there’s stillness.

  I am soon to be divorced, and I am going out on a date next week, and I’m no longer angry but old and sad, and above all wanting to learn, wanting to get it right, because I like this woman, I really do, even though she’s – after all is said and done – a woman. But I can’t afford to mess up again.

  So before I embark on this relationship, I’m going to do what I should have done before I embarked on all my other relationships. I’m going to sit down and think about miracle product A: women. I’m going to sit down and think about miracle product B: me. I’m going to sit down and think of the chemistry that happens when products A and B combine, or collide, falling meteors burning on the edges of cold, black space. I’m going to use all my memory, all my accumulated history, all my resources, sorely depleted though they nowadays are.

  This thinking may seem an extraordinarily obvious thing to do, and it may seem surprising that it hasn’t occurred to me before. I’ve been getting some therapy lately, as middle-aged men do, and I have been told that I am an extrovert. This doesn’t mean that I like to juggle walnuts or play practical jokes or burst into song at parties. It means that I, and I quote Terence, my therapist, ‘construct my significant meaning structures out of exterior rather than interior events’. The interior world is much less real to me than the tangible, exterior world.

  I think I’ve got that right. I wrote it down on the back of a sandwich wrapper, which was all I had at hand during the consultation, and I couldn’t quite read it afterwards. It’s not dysfunctional: half the world is like me. It’s just a way of dealing with stuff. I’m not good at ‘searching within’. My inner eye is myopic. I am practical. I see things primarily in terms of external appearances. I’m the sort of person who is inclined to say things like ‘You think too much’, or ‘Why don’t you just get on with it?’, or ‘If you can do something about it, do it. If you can’t, forget about it.’ It’s all black and white to someone like me. Or it has been. But now, in almost-divorced middle age, as the world has unstoppably presented itself in myriad tones of grey, I can’t sustain it. Reluctantly, haltingly, my thoughts have been turning inward. I have to say what I find there is… quite interesting. I won’t put it any stronger than that. Interesting, and disturbing.

  Thus, in the spirit of introversion, I’m going to do a thing, a very conventionally male thing. I’m going to try to work it out, add it up. I’m going to gather the evidence, sift and sort it, analyse it and try to reach firm conclusions that can be extrapolated into real life. Then I’m going to try to apply that knowledge to a relevant situation, i.e., this forthcoming and aforesaid date with a woman and any subsequent relationship that may emerge from it.

  Terence suggested this. He said it might be helpful to write these things down, everything that I was learning as I went along, this soul-mining. I’ve decided to take his advice.

  I’ve got a flip-chart in my flat. A big white pad of paper on a frame that stands on splayed steel legs. I use it sometimes to practise making pitches to clients. I work out the pros and cons, I give them the analyses, the way we target our markets, the possibilities for qualitative and quantitative research, I give the creative and demographic solutions to the problem of how to sell their lame, low-quality, half-baked products.

  I’ve decided to use that flip-chart to solve my identity or, if you prefer, to refine my brand statement. I’m going to use it to note down the research findings as I uncover them. It might seem pointless, since I’m only making the presentation to myself, since I’m the client and the agency simultaneously, the pitcher and the pitcher. But one of the things I have discovered about changing the way you are is that you have to ritualize, you have to externalize, to help stop your resolutions dissipating like mist.

  A presentation is a kind of prayer.

  By writing it all down, by codifying and structuring, recording the lessons as they occur to me, these ideas and lessons will become more real, I will be better able to apply them in real life. The flip-chart is the answer. If it can sell hard toilet paper to even harder-nosed businessmen, it can certainly sell me some painful truths.

  This is my fond hope, although reason and experience tell me it is futile, because the psychology of this new woman, of any new woman, will be unique and special to her, and even if it isn’t she’ll out-think me and turn me inside out, and if she doesn’t, then I probably won’t fall in love with her.

  So who’s saying it’s women who are irrational? Certainly not me. And definitely not yet.

  Anyway, I’m going to have a crack at it. I’m going to work this out. What’s wrong with women. What’s wrong with men. What’s wrong with me. What’s wrong.

  I take out a big black marker-pen and go up to the flip-chart. A white page. A tabula rasa, a pristine symbol of possibility. First I need a heading. A strap-line. A product statement. Since this is, clearly, an absurd exercise, I need an absurd title. Something self-deprecatory, something that will hide the truth that this is a deadly serious enterprise on which what’s left of my whole ragged future might hang.

  I bother and pester at the dragging heels of my imagination, until a few possibilities kick themselves up. Love Lessons? Too alliterative, too cheap and hackneyed. Things I Must Learn In Order Not To Fuck Up Any More? Accurate, but won’t leave any spare room on the paper. One Hundred Nightmare Things About Women? Good, but how do I know there are only a hundred? Women: A User’s Guide? But who’s using whom?

  In the end, I go for irony, the Esperanto of the modern copywriter. Self-defensive, self-mocking, never quite serious so never quite challengeable.

  In thick black strokes, at the top of the clean white page, I write in simple capital letters:

  THE LOVE SECRETS OF DON JUAN

  Two starting places. With what is axiomatic – the war of the worlds: Mars vs Venus; Titania vs Oberon; anima vs animus. And with where it all began – in the beginning. In the pre-dawn of the de-evolution of the love life of Daniel ‘Spike’ Savage.

  I must have been out with something in the order of – I can’t remember. Twenty-five women? To make the calculation first requires the asking of a vexed question: what does it mean to ‘go out’ with a woman?

  It would be bound to include some sort of sexual liaison, even if, in the earliest years, that liaison amounted to no more than a kiss. It would certainly require some sort of unwritten contract the first clause of which stipulated not ‘goin
g out’ with another woman contemporaneously. It would involve some kind of duration – the standard measure, I believe, is three dates during a period amounting to no more than a month. It would involve a considerable number of other, more subtle criteria – like what is the full text of that unwritten contract? For now, though, I want to stick to the ingredients at their most basic – some sexual contact, some unwritten contract, a duration of three dates.

  The strict application of these criteria cuts the number to, maybe, seventeen. Seventeen in, what, thirty years? Not so many, really, given the huge quantity of women out there -half the population, according to the more pessimistic estimates. Even seventeen’s too many – far too many for my purposes. How many of those women have I actually had relationships with that were serious enough potentially to learn anything from? Probably four. One of those four I married. All of them I loved in one way or another (and there are so many ways). So I’m going to concentrate on those few, that eroded, half-forgotten, virtually spectral quartet. If I can work out what went wrong with them, what I learned during my nights and days and months and years with them, perhaps next time I’ll be able to solve the riddle of the Sphinx. Only it’s harder than any riddle the Sphinx could devise. Because the Sphinx not only knew the answer, she knew what the riddle was. Women know neither. They only know, like men, that there is a riddle, and the man they’re with has to solve it for him to be worthy of their love.

  I must start my investigation not with opinion but with facts, with empirical research. I must start at the promised beginning of the history of my relationships with women. From the first one, when I was thirteen years old, to the last one, which hasn’t happened yet. Or, perhaps – as Terence suggests – I should really start at the very, very beginning, with my real first, unconsummated, sexual relationship.

  I should start with my love affair with my mother.

 
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