Six Characters in Search of a New Year Resolution

There’s something refreshing and renewing about making resolutions, especially as it happens only once a year.  Here’s what six characters I know have resolved to do.

Ex-con Dan lost a lot of life behind bars, so he wants to make the most of the new year.  Resolution one: he’s going to get a job.  Doesn’t matter what at this point.  Two: he’s going to learn a new word every day.  Useful words to help him go up in the world.  There are plenty of those in the dictionary he just bought.  Three: he’s going to find someone. prisonIt’s a long climb from where he is, but hey, one day at a time. One word at a time.

Her boyfriend may be perfect (he often says as much) but Harriet needs to get her own act together.  First, she’s going to hone her negotiating skills so she gets decent money for the articles she writes.  Second, she plans to break into the broadsheets.  Third, she’ll try to win her first ever journalism prize.  Hopefully this year there won’t be too many entries for the Carrot Consortium awards.  Then again, maybe she should just concentrate on resolution four: staying in the black.  She sighs and shuts her notebook.

GP Geoff is tired of New Year resolutions.  His patients never lose weight or stop smoking.  From January 1 he plans to focus on his own wellbeing. stethoscopeAs every medic knows, erectile problems are often a marker for heart disease or diabetes.  These days his dick is as limp as a lettuce, so he’s obviously on borrowed time.  Fuck it, that’s his resolution sorted.  He’s going to write a will so his ex doesn’t get it all if he snuffs it.

Laure has money, looks and brains.  Still she doesn’t feel beautiful inside, her home looks unloved, and there hasn’t been a man in her life for two years and three months (she doesn’t count Martin from the commercial property department).  The resolutions are writing themselves:

  1. Find someone special
  2. Stop being so critical of myself
  3. Make flat more welcoming.

self help booksThis may take a while.  And a few more self-help books.

Karen has big plans for the coming year.  She’s going to get out more.  Find a job (one that fits in with term-times).  Get her kids to stop fighting.  Buy from more upmarket shops (isn’t there a new Oxfam in Stanmore?).  Karen throws another Lego pirate into the box.  And meet a nice man, of course.Lego modelSanjay has whittled his resolutions down to one.  Beating cancer for another 12 months will do just fine.

If you want to know how it turns out, you can find out by reading One Night at the Jacaranda.

Have you made resolutions for 2014?   I’d love to hear what they are.

Finding a Man: the Sure-Fire 5-Point Plan (part two)

“Get yourself out there” says Rose. “I’ll babysit.”

So far, Karen’s sure-fire dating plan has failed to produce a suitable man (or, as her friend Rose points out, any man at all).

Just to explain, Karen is a mum of four who normally lives between the pages of my novel.  Any mother who’s newly single knows her predicament: lack of time, money, and a decent man.

“You’ve got to leave your comfort zone.  Open some doors.  Go where the fellas are.” Rose hands out wisdom along with a cup of tea.open doorway

Karen hopes that won’t mean betting shops or football matches.  Car maintenance classes might work, especially given the state of her Toyota, but she isn’t sure how attractive she’d be wearing overalls and Castrol GTX.

The gym, of course!  Then she thinks of her shapeless boobs, wobbly thighs, and a bladder that might not stand up to 5 minutes on the cross-trainer.   She’s after male interest, not abject pity. 

“I heard about this mingle” says Rose.   It’s at a large London library, apparently.  Karen likes books though she’s not sure how many she’s finished since her kids arrived.

On the night, she puts on a Primark dress and tucks a paperback into her bag.  You’re meant to take a book to swap at the mingle.  The Women’s Room will do nicely. Karen doesn’t need reminding that shit and string beans take over your mind.

When she arrives, there seem to be about 60 people there already.  She’d have got there earlier, only four-year old Edward decided to pull his big sister’s phone to pieces to see how it worked.

Karen puts her Marilyn French on a table.  It joins Sartre, Sebastian Faulks, CJ Sansom, Stephen Hawking and Dickens.

Everyone is offered a piece of paper out of a hat. library hat

Seems there’s a different hat for men.   Karen unfolds her paper. Lady Hamilton.  There’s no guarantee she’ll get it on with Lord Nelson, but a free glass of wine is on offer for those who find their missing half.

That’s why people are circulating, talking books, music, folding bicycles and other singleton stuff.

“I got cheap tickets.  Great production.”

“Goes right past the dome of St Paul’s.”

“Yeah, but you feel miles better next day.”

Nobody seems to be fretting about their offspring.    A white-haired man bumps into Karen.  “Are you Heloise?”

She’s not, so off he goes.  She watches him as he weaves his way through the crowd, his desperation increasing as woman after woman shakes her head.

An incredibly tall man bends down double and starts talking to her.   He’s Tristan, not Lord Nelson.  He spends two minutes asking Karen about her job (none at the moment) then wanders off to track down Isolde.

Sometimes it’s tough to be optimistic without wine.   Karen buys a large glass of red but it doesn’t make her feel any better.

Romeo and Juliet have already found each other..  Now they’re comparing notes on their daily commutes.

The white-haired man comes back to check she’s not Heloise.   He looks crestfallen when Karen says she’s Lady Hamilton.   There’s no sign of Lord Nelson.   Posh is deep in conversation with Becks.   Fred is with Wilma, and Napoleon, who’s an Aussie, is describing his fitness regime to Josephine.

Nobody has talked to Karen since Abelard.  It’s all very well leaving your comfort zone, but intense discomfort is counter-productive.

She finishes her drink and leaves early, grabbing a book from the Swap Table on her way out.  What’s so wrong with The Women’s Room anyway?

***

‘When your body has to deal all day with shit and string beans, your mind does too’, said Marilyn French in her debut novel The Women’s Room.  See Valli’s Book Den http://srivallip.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-women-room-by-marilyn-french.html

Finding a Man: the Sure-Fire 5-Point Plan

You’ve got to be organized, especially when you’re a single mum with four kids.  Karen’s good at lists.  Most of them look like this.

RSPCA memo pad

Karen is a character from my forthcoming novel, but if you have kids you probably know her. Her latest list is a plan.  A sure-fire 5-point plan to find herself a man.  Here goes:

1.  Be optimistic

2.  Look great at all times

3.  Network

4.  Go where the men are

5.  Leave comfort zone

OK, so she hasn’t met anyone since Tom moved out six months, but it shouldn’t be rocket science. After all, she used to be in HR.  She’ll get her man.

Point 1:  easy.  Karen’s always upbeat.  Her motto is ‘It’ll be fine’.  It’s simple, easy, and versatile.  It can be shouted when your 8-year old’s team is 7-0 down, as was the case last Sunday. Which sort of worked, because Damon didn’t let in any more goals after that.

All may not be fine, Karen admits, unless she implements 2 Look great at all times.  She learnt that lesson trying to flirt at the recycling centre when she looked like one of the totters.  Now she brushes her hair, applies lippy, and wears matching shoes even if she’s only doing the school run.  The other morning Charlotte watched critically from the doorway (she’s 10. Critical’s what she does).

“Mummy, why do you need mascara and blusher just to go to the bank?”

“You never know, sweetheart.  Suppose I run into Harry Potter in the high street?”

Karen has a new get-up too.  It’s for everyday wear, instead of the joggers that are only suitable for the garden, ideally on the compost heap.  She hadn’t been looking for new clothes, but she was in Sainsbury’s walking down the wrong aisle, which had a lot in common with her wedding.  Unlike her ex-husband, it was 25% off and came with double Nectar points.  

Sainsbury's signThe top isn’t quite the right size, but Karen fixes that in no time.  If she doesn’t raise her arms, nobody will even notice the staples.

On to point 3: Network.  Not so much using LinkedIn as mining existing contacts.  Surely somewhere there’s a friend of a friend who knows a single guy who isn’t an axe-murderer.  Karen doesn’t have the nerve to ask every mum at the school gates if they have a brother or a discarded husband/lover/toyboy, but she drops a few hints.

The outcome is the dinner party from hell, with single bachelordom represented by a monosyllabic quantity surveyor with personal hygiene issues.  Her hosts aren’t speaking to each other, which makes the evening as fun as a conference of Trappist monks.  The dinner is a roast and the meat wasn’t local.  Karen chews in dutiful silence, trying not to think of live lambs trapped for hours in an overcrowded container lorry.

Karen describes the evening to her best friend Rose.

“That’s no use” says Rose.  “You’ve got to go where the real men are.”

Karen recalls a teenage pastime.  “What, like hanging around the barracks and hoping to pick up a squaddie?”

“No, silly.   You’ve got a car.  And you like books, don’t you?”  Rose has a couple of suggestions.bookshelf

Coming soon: what happened when Karen left her comfort zone.

Meanwhile here’s one of dating blogs Karen has been reading http://www.nerve.com/advice

If her kids are still up, she looks at this site instead http://www.nectar.com

Where on earth can you meet someone?

When you’re 30-something, it’s tough to meet people.  I know a couple who met on an allotment, but, when I tried growing vegetables, all I pulled was a bunch of deformed carrots.

Laura has a similar problem.  At uni, men were young, plentiful and persistent.  Now it’s a different story.

She dreams she’ll randomly meet a hot guy while out shopping.  He’ll have eyes like molten chocolate and a French name like Yves.  They’ll swap phone numbers and then – well, the rest will be in soft-focus.   shoppingIn point of fact, the only time she spotted anyone attractive in a shop, she up-ended her handbag in the aisle.  Instead of helping her collect coins and tampons off the floor while begging for her number, the guy turned away and carried on studying tea-bag prices.

Back to dating websites then.  Where she’s 34, called Emma, pretends she’s not a lawyer, and gives a fake phone number.  It’s a pay-as-you-go mobile she can easily discard.  All those phoney layers will have to come off if (or when?) when she meets someone nice.  She’ll cross that bridge when she gets to it.

Geoff is another character out of my forthcoming novel.  He’s a newly divorced doctor, and the nice pay packet no longer makes up for sky-rocketing patient demand and new government diktats every other day.  During his years working in hospitals, women threw themselves at him, and academic awards came equally fast and thick.  stethoscopeBut he’s been a GP for over 10 years now, and the sea is remarkably empty of fish.  GMC guidelines forbid relationships with patients, and he doesn’t fancy the new receptionist, even if the patients adore her.   Plus there’s a new problem now.  He can’t perform as he once did.

Geoff returns the call to the nursing home.  Bad news: 94-year old Mrs Montgomery fell out of bed again so he’ll have to visit.  She seems fine, they say, but as always the staff want to ‘cover’ themselves.

Get yourselves a duvet, thinks Geoff as he gets into his car.

Karen, now.  Men haven’t exactly been beating a path to her dilapidated front door.  No, her best friend tells her, the meter reader doesn’t count.

Newly single, Karen has 4 children and no job.  She’s still confident she’ll meet someone eventually, even if all the evidence so far is against it.

After a clear-out, today she’s headed for the recycling centre.  It’s on her way to the hairdresser’s for a much overdue appointment, via the shoe repairers and the bank.  Why spend more on petrol than you have to?  Karen doesn’t obsess about her appearance, especially when she’s busy cramming her clapped-out Toyota with bags of garden refuse, broken toys, mouldy trainers, 994-piece puzzles, and clothes that her kids have worn to death.recyclingParking her car in front of the containers, she notices a man in a green T-shirt unloading a wardrobe from the back of his estate car.  Nice buns.

He turns to face her.  It’s a Nike T-shirt, and more to the point he has a great smile.  She makes eye contact and returns the smile with a Hi, ready to talk about the wardrobe, or anything really.

He clocks her, but his smile promptly fades.  In fact he hot-foots it back to his car, driving off a lot faster than the 5 mph limit.

When she gets to the hairdresser’s, Karen is ashamed to see in the mirror just how bad her roots have got, how much garden rubbish she has on her sweatshirt and, in short, how bad she looks.

Michael knows exactly where to meet women.  After all, he’s an accountant, so he’s got it planned down to the last detail.  That’s how he does everything, even watching porn.

More to come in my novel on dating. Meanwhile why not take a moment to share your experience of meeting people? I’d love to hear your tips too.

The Top 5 Cities for Dating

It depends what you’re looking for (and, as a friend rightly says, how old you are, there being obvious differences between Vienna and, say, Ibiza).

I was on the look-out for settings for my latest novel and wanted guidance.  The advisory panel retired to a bar to deliberate the top cities for dating.  Several rounds later, they had discarded New York and Rome, and came up with these five choices.

1.  ParisParis frame 2

For: Possibly the most heavenly city on earth, with no shortage of romantic places for a rendezvous.

Against:  the pickings can be slim, according to a writer friend who lived there and longed for more than a married lover for some cinq-à-sept.

 

Amsterdam framed2.  Amsterdam

For: Vibrant, hip and imbued with sex as well as culture, this city can put you under its influence without ever going near one of the infamous coffee-houses.

Against: the weather is unpredictable.  And the men love to eat raw fish.

3.  DublinDublin framed

For: A beautiful and historic city, with plenty to see.  And Dubliners are wonderfully gregarious.  There are no strangers, just friends you haven’t yet met – with some bound to be single.

Against: the weather is predictable.  It rains all the time.

Havana framed

4.  Havana

For:  If your idea of dating is to go salsa dancing as soon as you land, or be serenaded to Guantanamera when you only stopped to cross the street, this is the place.

Against: prepare to consider yourselves ‘engaged’ by the end of the night.

5.  Cleethorpes

London was going to be on the list until my friend Rachel convinced everyone how much Cleethorpes has to offer.  There’s the seafront, a lovely pier, a light railway, romantic trams, even a statue of The Boy with the Leaking Boot.*  The Greenwich meridian goes through the town, and the weather’s not so bad if you wrap up warm (you weren’t going to have sex on the beach, were you?).

Despite these obvious attractions, I did the dirty on Cleethorpes.  I plumped for London as the setting for my novel on dating.

I know it’s beautiful, because I live there.  Alongside the obvious pubs, restaurants and bars, there are some of the finest shops in the world.   There’s also free entertainment:  museums, galleries and parks, or just a stroll by the river. Time it right, and you can catch Tower Bridge opening. Tower bridge framed

Cleethorpes may have lyrical trams, but in London a lot can happen on its iconic red buses or the extensive underground system.   Commuters being what they are, you can even give birth on the Piccadilly Line without anyone batting an eyelid.

I set several scenes in Marylebone because it’s buzzing.  There are upmarket grocers, specialist bookshops, funky gadget stores, designer boutiques, not to mention charity shops which stock a lot of designer cast-offs.  Despite there being more cafés, patisseries and restaurants than anyone could possibly need, they’re always full of customers lured by the aroma of warm bread and freshly ground coffee.  Marylebone is very much the place to be, especially if you have nothing very much to do.

The Jacaranda bar, where most of my characters meet, is off Marylebone High Street and has the longest zinc bar in town.  It’s named after the original Jacaranda bar in Liverpool, the first venue ever to host the Beatles.

It would be poetic to say the advisory board met there, but it wouldn’t be true.   My Jacaranda bar isn’t a Mecca for Beatles trail tourists.   If you go looking for it in Marylebone, or anywhere else in London, you’ll be disappointed.  I made it up.

Still, my city is the star of my story, just as much as each character.   It’s cosmopolitan, it’s loaded with heritage, and, best of all, if you don’t like the one you’re with, it’s big enough to avoid said person.  Not something you can say about Cleethorpes, is it, Rachel?

*Cleethorpes is said to be the number one destination in the UK for seaside holidays.  For more, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleethorpes

Female, 38, seeks altruistic single male

“I’m fussy, that’s the problem” says Laura.

Her friend Ruth nods.  They both know ‘fussy’ is shorthand for 38 and single.

lavender heart This week, Laura escapes from the pages of my novel and ponders a report that shows altruistic behaviour makes men more attractive, even as one-night stands.

Now that Laura is back from working abroad, her CV looks great but her love life doesn’t.  She needs to meet people other than those at the office.  Hooking up in bars is dodgy.  But more dodgy than hooking up at work?  She thinks back to last year and Jamie in socks, tie and nothing else.  Er, no.

“How about what’s-his-name off that dating site?” asks Ruth.

Laura makes a face.  She had a drink with what’s his name last week.  ‘I’m a paralegal’ she replied to his question.  ‘A pair o’ legal what?’ he leered, getting too close.

In fact she’s a lawyer.  She also tells people she’s 34, called Emma, and lives in Hampstead.  There’s a fine line between honesty and ending up dismembered in some lockup.  Or several lockups.

There hasn’t been one big dating disaster that she can dine out on, just a series of soul-destroying evenings trying to find something in common with people like Wayne from Wasp Control.  He’d said he was a wildlife expert, so obviously he’d bigged it up a bit, like his photo which looked like Johnny Depp.  In life he looked more like Johnny Come Weekly.   He’d also promised that she’d never meet another man quite like him.  Laura hoped that bit was true.

“What exactly are you looking for?” Ruth asks.

She wasn’t looking for smelly guys in grubby leather coats, emotional idiots who blubbed about the ex-girlfriend, jolly men who said they had GSOH. That meant they laughed at their own jokes.  Or the forgetful type like Tom.  One detail he’d omitted?  He was still living with his ex-wife.  Another detail was that the wife wasn’t ex.

Most matches she deleted without meeting.   The ones who claimed to be’tactile and sexy’ were plain creepy.  The more discursive entries were equally cringe-making: ‘I’m into all kinds of sports, and keen to find a partner who wants to explore our physical passion in all its forms.’  Why didn’t they just cut to the chase and write ‘deviant’?

Ruth had an idea. “You want someone who does good deeds.  Have you seen the paper today?  Research shows that altruism makes men more attractive as a potential partner.  Women too, apparently, but it works best for men.”

“I’m not looking for someone to help me cross the street just yet.”

Ruth digs a newspaper out of her shopping bag and shows it to Laura.

As soon as Ruth has gone, Laura logs onto the site.  Now Alan the surveyor sounds quite nice. There’s already a message from him.  And look, it says here he helps out in a homeless shelter!

You have to live in hope.  Laura clicks Reply.

*Link to the study from Nottingham and Liverpool John Moores Universities http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/news/pressreleases/2013/september/selflessness-can-be-attractive.aspx.