Love secrets of don juan, p.2
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       Love Secrets of Don Juan, p.2

           Tim Lott
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My mother’s name, as already recorded, is Iris. Iris. It’s really not the stuff of Oedipal myth. I can’t imagine myself butchering Derek then throwing Iris passionately down on the continental quilt, my shins picking up fabric burns from the thrusts against the nylon valance. I don’t really buy it, and I don’t think Terence does either. But obviously she was the first woman I had a relationship of any kind with. I held her breast in my mouth, and, I surmise, sucked it, although when I look at her today – etiolated, authentically mumsy, fond of ladies’ fours at golf and addicted to daytime television – it is entirely impossible for me to grasp this.

  Iris, the primary erotic love object. Funnily enough I can see, when looking at old photographs, that she was an attractive woman before boredom, childbirth, time, gravity and Derek flattened, hollowed and dried her out. She was buxom, with long curly blonde hair, when she was raising me. Terence once asked me if I had ever fallen in love with a brunette, and the shock realization dawned that I hadn’t even been out on a date with one. So much for choice. Gusts of circumstance propel us both without and within. As Terence always reminds me, the past never dies.

  But it does not always rule everything. Perhaps it goes thus far, the influence of Iris: the setting of the physical tone, the initial calibration of the rules of attraction.

  I apologize for the crudity of insight. I’m new to this sort of thing – to introspection. I am greatly tempted to just tear all this up, throw it in the bin and go out on that date with Juliet – Juliet Fry – without further consideration or reflection. But I’m going to get as much homework done as I possibly can before that first assignation, next Wednesday, eight p.m., at Harry’s Pub, Hammersmith.

  Juliet has brown hair, and I think that’s progress. Surely it’s some proof that this self-scrutiny is paying off. She’s not blonde. Juliet’s hair isn’t even curly, it’s absolutely straight, Japanese straight. Yet there it is. I’m attracted. And not entirely out of desperation, although that does, clearly, play a part. She’s got something – although I always say that before I go out with a new woman. But will it be the right thing?

  What is the ‘something’ this time? With Helen, my first love, it was simply her hair – curly, yellow, long, Iris-like, etc. With Kelly, it was her air of calm and her other-worldly aura. With Natasha, it was her vibrancy, her sexual and animal energy. With Beth, it was –

  It was her hair.

  This introspection can be thoroughly depressing. It exposes the myth of progress, and we need our myths, as anyone in my profession can confirm. I can see now why I’ve avoided introspection all these years. It shows you things that the extrovert will always identify as best buried, denied, cast out. Take those emotions, the extrovert says, take that pain, that rage, that loneliness and… swallow. Eat up your dinner like a good boy.

  Eat up your dinner like a good boy. That’s what Iris used to say to me. Funny that I should remember it at this particular moment. It was the most important thing that transformed me from naughty to good in Iris’s eyes. Eating up my dinner. Even if I hated it, which, given Iris’s rudimentary, half-cocked and usually indigestible cookery, I invariably did. So I ate. I swallowed. I stuffed it down. I wanted to please my mother.

  Have I already, after a mere fifteen minutes of introspection, stumbled on a vital piece of evidence in the study of the spiritual, romantic and professional discombobulation of Daniel ‘Spike’ Savage?

  It was desperately important to me to please Iris, to gain her approval. Unconditional love was not what my mother did – not then, not now. I suspect it’s not what any parent does, as a matter of fact: it’s a comforting illusion, but some mothers were a tad more unconditional than Iris. If you didn’t do what Iris wanted, the way she wanted it done, you were demoted to non-person.

  My mother never smacked me. Compared with what my mother did do, a smack would have been a blessing. A smack would have been a knickerbocker glory and a chocolate Flake. When my mother suspected me of any wrong doing or disobedience an icy sheet would descend between us. If I pushed it too far – and what is too far, where is that border when you’re four years old? – I was exiled to Siberia. And the tundra melts slowly in Siberia, if ever, if at all. She would not speak to you, would not touch you. Iris would just look at you… Iris would just look at me – let’s get the language correct. One thing you learn about language as an advertising copywriter is that words are power. Iris would just look at me as if I was something that had crawled out of the dustbin. At times like that I would long for a smack, so that things could be over. But they wouldn’t be over.

  They’re still not over.

  I rang Iris the other day. I do from time to time, ever the dutiful, ever the hopeful son.

  Hello, Mum.


  There it was, in that one word: Siberia. What was it I had done? I still don’t know. Iris isn’t quite ready to part with that knowledge yet. In a week, maybe two, the hints will become large enough, her purposes will be rendered transparent enough, to be positively identified. In the meantime, she knows that her power lies in keeping me in the dark. It works. Silent outrage is her diet, her food of the gods, her ambrosia. That’s one nightmare thing about women: the way they love their anger, the way Iris clutched it to her as if it were a hungry child. Like the hungry child I…

  Stop. Rewind. Play. Pause.

  Suddenly I remember why I have hitherto understood introspection to be hollow. As you look inwards you see what appears to be light somewhere in the dark coils and spiralling smoke of your so-called self. You approach – and then, before you know it, you are blinded. The light blinds you, yet you are drawn to it, you become addicted to it, you are addicted to making sense, except you aren’t making sense: you are simply making shadow puppets against the blinding light. You are hallucinating behind your eyes. So hold on. Check. Pull back.

  And yet… there may be a clue here about me and women. I was desperate to gain my mother’s approval. It was withheld. Ergo, I may be overly desperate to gain any putative mate’s approval. First, it’s probably the reason I fall in love too quickly – the anxiety to heal the unhealable. Second, the result of the inevitable failure of my unconscious search for unconditional love is always bitterness and resentment. Bitterness and resentment, which should rightly be aimed at Yiewsley, where my mother lives now, tundra-struck. But instead the poor woman that I happen to be sharing a bed with at any given time gets it in the back of the neck. My rage. My disappointment. My shame. Cue break-up of relationship. Cue more disappointment, shame and rage. Repeat cycle. Stand well back.

  Or not. I think I’ll let that one ferment. I’ll bear it in mind. In the meantime I need to turn my mind back to Juliet. Can I be her Romeo? Perhaps not the best analogy, paradigms of self-destruction that those lovers were.

  I first met Juliet at this wild party. There were women everywhere, and I had my pick. There was just something in the air that night. I felt lit up with male sexuality, power, allure. It was extraordinary. I saw her watching me, and decided that she was the one.

  I simply walked up to her, and I took her, took her like that – like snapping my fingers. Led her, with barely a word spoken, into the empty bedroom where the coats were, and although she gasped and weakly, unconvincingly, pushed me away, I knew that she wanted to be overwhelmed, and that’s what I did: I overwhelmed her with the sheer force of my primitive, unassailable will. Later she said it was what she’d always hoped for but had long since given up dreaming about. Ever since that night, she’s been hounding me for a date, and I’ve decided to cave in. What can stand in the face of that kind of intensity of desire from a woman?

  None of this is true.

  I didn’t meet Juliet at a party. I didn’t meet Juliet, full stop. I’ve never seen her – not in person. Even though I really like her, and I think she’s great, and I know what she looks like because she emailed me a photo, I’ve never come face to face with her.

  I contacted her through the personal columns.

sp; Sorry, but I’m not going to apologize for it. Even though I feel sorry, I’m not going to say it. Even though I’ve just said sorry, I don’t feel it. I’m confused. But I won’t be – not after I’ve weighed all the evidence and come to some conclusions, however long it takes.

  It was me who was advertising and Juliet answered. I thought, I’m going to be good at this. This is my ideal medium. I’m an advertising copywriter, after all. If I can sell hard toilet paper, I can certainly sell me.

  It took me only thirty minutes to come up with this minor classic.

  Stop. Don’t read this yet. Look at the other ads.

  Then read this.

  Those people are everything you fear. They like walks in the country, they are sensitive, they go to salsa lessons, they are lost and they are lonely.

  You are not like that. Neither am I.

  I am 39, tall, good-looking, divorced, creative, love literature, passion, conversation, ER and Big Brother. Box No. 706A.

  The work of a professional. Clever and knowing, it is intriguing, confident, mildly amusing, flatters the reader. It even stands a certain amount of deconstruction and, in the way of post-modernism, plays loose with the truth. It is amused that you could even think there was such a thing. ‘I am 39.’ Not strictly true, since I am forty-five. But in the crude economics of the marketplace, thirty-nine does the work it’s supposed to. Why is everything in the shops always £4.99, £9.99, even £19.99? Because reason and logic are walk-on parts in the theatre of the mind, are the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of mental activity. The leading players are wishfulness and denial. All the buyer sees is that the product is not five pounds, not ten pounds, not twenty pounds. And that this particular product is not forty years old. If the date works out, and leads to another and another, and you tell her you lied, three years later in your cosy Saturday-morning bed, it’s good for a nostalgic, retrospective, self-mocking, rueful laugh.

  I am not ‘tall’, only average, five ten. Why bother to lie about this? Because you have to target your market. If you scan the small ads placed by women – like I did – at least sixty per cent of them mention height, and the superabundance of it, as a prime factor. I don’t know why this is. I am depressed by the prejudice contained within it. I feel sorry for little guys. They must have a hell of a time in this marketplace. Women don’t date shortcakes. Snow White didn’t marry any of the Seven Dwarfs. They worshipped her, she made them supper and a cup of tea. Then it was off to do the nasty with the handsome six-foot-plus prince. As in fable, so it is in life.

  ‘Good-looking’ is, again, stretching the truth, though I’ve always been OK. Simply one of those eighty per cent of people who are neither handsome nor hideous but borderline both at certain times, depending on the hour of the morning, depth of suntan and that week’s fat-to-muscle ratio, and so on. Remembering our post-modern stance, since Juliet and I are probably going to end up talking about literature if only to display a certain degree of refinement to one another, context is everything. The reader will interpret. She’ll know, as sure as Jacques Derrida likes Judy Garland, that anyone qualified to appear in the Gap catalogue is not going to be advertising in the personals. She’ll make the necessary imaginative adjustment.

  ‘Literature’, true, ‘passion’ (code for ‘sex’), true, ‘ER’ and ‘Big Brother’, of course not, they’re pap, but women love them. Why? It’s not relevant. It’s an introvert’s question. The point is, can I wing liking them for the span of a date or two? Certainly.

  Notice there is no mention of living in a bedsit, the existence of one much-loved but distraught and sometimes difficult child, and the occasional desire to strafe the entire pre-menopausal female population from the back of a slowly moving armoured vehicle. The importance of editing – you pick up the trick in the ad business.

  So there it is. I haven’t lost the old touch yet, the touch that used to bring me in £150,000 p.a. and a very close brush with the D&AD awards on more than one occasion.

  (D&AD awards are the ad industry’s Oscars. It helps convince us that we’re artists.)

  It did the trick. They put their answers on voicemail nowadays and, for a mildly exorbitant fee, you can get to hear all the people who bought into your branding statement. In my case, market penetration was significant, given the reach and media spend. I got twenty-three messages.

  Juliet’s was the third. The first went something like this. ‘Hi. Liked your message. Give me a call.’ Certainly I’ll give you a call. Why wouldn’t I? You’re the kind of no-hoper who spends their spare time going through the personal columns, and you’ve left me no details of yourself whatsoever to mitigate this fact. But since I advertised in the same column, I must share your self-hatred enough just to call up anyone who happens to respond in however cursory a fashion.

  The second call was from a Glaswegian, who seemed nice, challenging and interesting, but every third syllable she uttered was unintelligible, so that was that. Also, I’m not too keen on the urban Scots I’ve been out with so far -clever and witty, but a little bit too sure they’ve got your number, a little bit too certain of their place in the moral universe. I think of them as faux-Jewish princesses, but lacking the neuroses and the sex drive. Anyway, in either case, I prefer people who have the dignity to be wrong once in a while.

  What I would really like in the ideal world I do not inhabit is someone Irish, English (any skin colour, preferably London-born), or Mediterranean, preferably French-born (love the accent), who works in the field of something real, perhaps a doctor or a cook, or a – Christ, when you think about it there are so few real jobs left. Perhaps that’s why there are so few real people left. Lawyer, maybe. Or a criminal. Teacher, sculptor, car mechanic, postwoman, dogcatcher – anything that involves really doing something.

  The third call was from Juliet, and she sounded quite promising. She was about the right class (v.v. important: I’m middle class, a bit, but first-generation, and even then not quite – Derek was a cabinet-maker, Iris a housewife, I went to grammar school), had GSOH (good sense of humour for those of you popular enough never to have to have done this), had a proper job (a furniture-restorer – admirable, interesting, real), had no obvious verbal tics and didn’t castigate me once for having an inappropriate opinion during the half an hour we spent on the phone. Described herself as thirty-five (like I’m thirty-nine), brunette, attractive (she was quite brazen about this: not ‘My friends think I’m attractive’, but ‘I’m attractive’ – that plain, that direct).

  Anyway, whatever she looks like, we’re going on a date –so I have to start learning. And thinking. And learning about thinking.

  Which all starts with remembering.


  Before moving on to my forthcoming date, I think it’s time to consider the nature, impact and consequences of my first kiss. This is not including Iris, who did kiss me from time to time, in a motherly and, at times, affectionate manner. Despite her fondness for conjuring up Siberia, my mother was not evil or entirely dysfunctional.

  My first proper kiss was proffered and gratefully accepted when I was thirteen years old. I can’t remember much about being thirteen years old. I recall that, after the still fresh exile from the enchanted crucible of childhood, it seemed vaguely flat and stale, and also that the idea of sex had suddenly detonated itself in my mind, enchantment’s dark mutation. Thus I spent a tremendous amount of my spare time masturbating, as consolation for my exile, and as the only remaining place of transcendence to which I possessed the co-ordinates. With what limited time was left after masturbation I either used to go to school, watch TV or listen to records. This was my life in its entirety.

  What I need to think about right now, however, is – what did I think of girls at that age? Proto-women, nightmares waiting to be dreamed. At what point did they begin to transform from strange non-boys, negatives if you will, into positive, active forces, that both attracted and repelled at separate poles? It was somewhere around this age, certainly. Somewhere around the tim
e of my first kiss.

  The idea of putting your tongue into somebody else’s mouth, when you consider it from the childhood perspective of innocence, is a distasteful one. I do remember that it was not something that appealed to me, although I considered that its execution was, sooner or later, going to prove necessary if I were to achieve the apparently desirable condition of manhood. On that particular day, the prospect was that it was to be sooner rather than later for it was Sharon Smith’s birthday party, and I was on the guest list – to my considerable surprise.

  Imagine, if you will, after the fashion of the time (this was around 1970) a schoolgirl, in schoolgirls’ uniform, with big panda eyes, made bigger by the liberal application of kohl. Short skirt, Brutus shirt, hair feather-cut in the skinhead style. Penny loafers. Thirteen years old, but sexually knowing, in some vague, unspecified way that I was able to observe yet could not fully comprehend. Sharon, to the boys in our class, was known as a bit of a slag, which was the label we put on any girl who disturbed us and challenged us with their sexuality. It was not meant to imply that we thought she was a bad person, or that she spent her spare hours jumping in and out of bed with a variety of well-hung lovers. We respected her for being a bit of a slag. The other girls in the class were teacher’s pets, drabs, drones, children. Sharon was exotic, powerful. We all felt favoured if we could capture her attention. The boys who made the ‘slag’ references most often were usually those who were of least significance to her – nerds, losers, freaks.

  So I was extremely flattered by the invitation to her party. It happened like this.

  Scene: school cloakroom. Time: spring term. Dramatis personae: me, Sharon and Sharon’s best friend, the less comely Sally Shaw, who, plain, fat and ungainly, seemed to have nothing whatsoever in common with her glamorous best friend other than the coincidence of her initials. Partly because of their habit of preying on the helpless and the excluded, they came to be known among those who feared them as the SS.

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