We were talking to a couple we’d met on the hotel car park. The conversation began when they parked next to us, opened the boot to remove suitcases and what appeared to be the entire boot’s contents fell out. Okay, I’ve been there myself, but when it happens to me it’s inevitably pouring with rain and the weather here is perfect. We’re high in the Alps, straddling the border between Germany and Austria, and fellow Brits have been in very short supply for days. Not that we’re pining for the company of our fellow citizens.
They turned up again, turning the key in the room next door to ours and when we decided to take our books down to the terrace area and read for a while, they were there already. Cue the ‘not you again’ remarks from all concerned. ‘We’re just having a bit of a picnic,’ the woman (Janice) said. ‘Why don’t you join us?’
I popped back to our room, collected anything edible I could find and we had a party. While our respective Princesses sipped a decorous glass of wine, we men strolled around the grounds and talked about football. As one does.
Later the discussion turned to how they’d met as I’d already sussed this was a fairly recent partnership – the relentless politeness gave it away.
‘I met Janice through a dating agency,’ he said.
‘I’ll tell you what,’ my new friend said, moving closer in a conspiratorial fashion, ‘I’ve never done so much bonking in my life. Every night a different one, all of ‘em gagging for it.’
‘Really?’ I said, faintly, trying to keep any suggestion of jealousy out of my voice.
‘Oh yes. Went on for weeks, it did. Worked my way through most of the catalogue.’
‘There’s a catalogue?’ I asked, visions of the dauntingly thick examples I’d seen in Argos flooding my mind.
‘Well, they don’t call it that, but you just say what you’re looking for and they send you some names to pick from.’
I looked across the smoking charcoal to where Janice was topping up her glass. A nice enough woman, but ‘homely’ would be the kindest description I could offer.
‘You get a photo and a description of their likes and dislikes, you see? Enough to go on, even though most of the photos are not exactly recent. Can’t be too choosy, mind you. I’m no oil painting, I suppose.’
He looked at me and I nodded; trying to express agreement without it being perceived as an insult. He was a big man with good hair, but that was where the good points ended. He looked as if he liked a drink and had a nose that was impossible to ignore. I couldn’t take my eyes off it when we first met. Think Concorde with attached hairy nodules and you’re in the right area.
‘All that bonking.’ Oh, God he was off again with the bonking memories. ‘Don’t want to let them down, do you, but it was a bit of a chore sometimes.’
‘Hmm!’ I studiously examined a rather ordinary flower bed, eyes firmly averted from that nose.
‘Good sense of humour, well everyone puts that down, didn’t mention smoking ‘cos I didn’t want to cut down the numbers too much, you know?’
I nodded, guardedly. Meeting strangers on the road is always a leap into the unknown, but the girls still were laughing away so I just stood there stoically, wondering how I could get the conversation back to football.
‘Enjoys socialising, going out, that’s another thing they all say, so I put that. Don’t want anyone who’s not interested in going down the pub, see? Looking for fun and possibly more. That was my advert. I was going to say looking for a relationship, but I was a bit worried I’d end up with a load of desperate clingers.’’
‘Ah,’ I said. My input was minimal and I was content to keep it so.
‘All that bonking’, ‘ he said again, his eyes glazing over. ‘Weeks and weeks of it. Never saw the same one twice either.’
I finally found the courage to ask the inevitable question. ‘How did you decide Janice was the one?’
He gave a raucous bellow that momentarily stopped conversation over the way. He waved to Janice and they resumed their chat. ‘Pure chance, really. She’s no looker, but there were other attractions.’
I walked faster, hoping against hope there wouldn’t be a litany of Janice’s’ prowess between the sheets, in exhaustive detail, coming my way. We still hadn’t eaten.
‘She’s a good girl, Janice. Got a trick or two up her sleeve as well, if you know what I mean.’ He nudged me and I winced, but not from the dig of his elbow in my ribs. ‘No, I can get sex anywhere.’
I looked at that nose, his spreading gut, and said nothing. If he said so.
‘She’s a cracking mechanic, see? Her dad ran a garage in Leeds and she picked it all up there. Keeps the van running smooth, decent cook and can drink most men under the table. What more could anyone ask for? Yeah, after a couple of hours I knew she was the girl for me. Knew it, even before she dragged me off to bed. Mind you, that made my eyes water. When she…’
‘Anyone want a drink over there?’ Marigold called out and I broke the world twenty yards record in rushing over, glass in hand. I wasn’t exactly gasping, but it was the most timely interruption I’d come across for some time.
Much later, after a very pleasant evening, and back in our own room, Marigold brought me up to speed on Janice.
‘They met on an online dating agency,’ she said.
‘Yes, I know.’
‘She felt sorry for him at first. The nose and everything, but things livened up when they were in bed. Honestly, G, I didn’t know where to put myself. She went into all the details.’
‘He was so shy, she thought nothing would ever happen and when it did, well, hopeless is the word, she chose.
‘Oh he’s a bit better now, although not much, apparently, but she loves him to bits anyway. He’s brilliant at football and history.’
‘Pub quizzes. She knows pop music, soaps, current affairs stuff and between them they clean up at pub quizzes. That’s their secret, she said, having a shared interest. The sex is no more than so-so, but they both like a drink and are perfect together. That’s how she put it, perfect together.’
‘Just like you and G, she said. I agreed with her, of course.’
I could feel her shaking with laughter. ‘Before you ask, no I never gave her any details. Your secrets are safe, for now.’