the fourth date

Jan is chatting to the care coordinator about her patchy dating history.
‘I’ve kissed my fair share of frogs,’ she says. ‘Frogs. Trolls. You name it. A whole long line. One guy I saw had one and a half ears.’
‘On the same side of his head.’
‘He looked alright but he wasn’t the kind of guy I normally date. I just didn’t fancy him. Not ‘cos of the ear thing. I didn’t notice the ear thing till the fourth date.’
‘You made it to four dates?’
‘Yeah – well – it was a slow month.’
So – what? On the fourth date you asked him back to your place, ran your fingers through his ears, and that was that.’
‘We didn’t get that far. I only noticed the ear thing when he turned to get his coat. And anyway – even if he had told me I wouldn’t have believed him. When we met on the first date I asked him what he did and he said he was a dust man.’
‘A dust man?’
‘Yeah. Why? What?’
‘I dunno. Dust man sounds odd’
‘Refuse collector, then.’
‘Thank you.’
‘Anyway. I didn’t care what he did, so long as we got on. Only in his case, we didn’t.’
‘Shame.’
‘But you know what he said on the fourth date?’
‘What?’
‘He said he wasn’t really a dust man.’
‘What was he, then?’
‘He said he was a financial adviser. He said he only told me he was a dust man to check I wasn’t going out with him for his money.’
‘Tosser.’
‘That’s what I said.’
‘Still. I don’t think that’s any reason to bite his ear off.’

two from the queue

Maybe in the future they’ll have an AI coordinator. Something with a wipe-clean face and a decent range of expressions. Something that can reply to an email, accept a referral, schedule a visit, settle an argument, make a clinical decision, take a note, make an amendment, triage a patient, liaise with a pharmacist, sort out an IT problem and laugh sympathetically at the struggles of a new member of staff – whilst at the same time keeping tabs on the thirty or so patient visits that are happening at any given moment. Until they do, though, they’re stuck with us.

Coordinating makes you crazy. Uncoordinated. Or, if not that, exactly, more hyper-coordinated, so that everything you do, even the little things, are done so intensely and with such purpose, you feel a little shaky by lunchtime – something which all the coffee you drink does nothing to ease.

You’re besieged by nurses and therapists, managers and carers, cleaners and admin staff, a constant coming and going, everyone wanting something, from a shift swap to an update to a pencil sharpener. I’m so conscious of the noise levels I’ve toyed with the idea of wearing a Daft Punk-style helmet – maybe with a light on the top that’ll flash when I’m available. I feel sorry for whoever it is I happen to be speaking to on the phone. They must think I’m calling from a bus station or a call centre. It can’t sound good.

There are some perks, though. Limitless coffee is one. The buzz of getting things in order is another. But one of the best are the random conversations you overhear when people are waiting to handover.

For example:

A: I went on that dating app you told me about.
B: Yeah? How d’you get on?
A: Alright. I struggled a bit with my profile. I thought I sounded a bit boring, so when it said hobbies I put chess.
B: Chess?
A: Yeah. Why?
B: Can you even play chess?
A: No.
B: Aren’t you worried you’ll get found out?
A: We’re hardly likely to be playing chess on our first date, are we? Unless they’re a complete perv.
B: But what if they ask you about it?
A: I’ll just say I like to play it now and again and that’s it.
B: But what if they ask you stuff?
A: Like what?
B: I don’t know. Who your favourite player is.
A: (laughs) They won’t.
(pause)
B: Don’t you think it might put them off?
A: I’ve already had two dates.
B: Two?
A: Two.
(pause)
B: They must be desperate.
A: Thanks a lot.

And another:

A: I was at the doctor’s the other day and there’s this kid with his hoodie up standing in front of me in the queue, shuffling about. And I think to myself – hang on a minute, that’s Tiffany’s youngest, Brandon. So I tap him on the shoulder, and he turns round, and fuck me, it was! So I says to him “What are you doing here, Brandon?” – but then I think – No! Noooo no no! That’s naughty. I can’t be asking him that. I mean, he might go and tell me, and that’d be awkward. For both of us. I mean – I’m best mates with Tiffany and I might struggle not to spill the beans. But do you know what he says? He says “I’m too embarrassed”. So I say “Well you gotta tell me now.” And he goes: “No. You’ll just think I’m a dullard.”
B: A dullard?
A: A dullard. That’s what he says. A dullard. I didn’t even know what it meant. I thought it was a kind of duck.
B: What teenage boy uses a word like dullard?
A: A Brandon-type boy, obviously Shell. Anyway, I say to him: “Whatever it is I won’t think any the worse of you. Promise.” So he says: ‘I’ve got a fingernail stuck in my throat”.
B: A fingernail?
A: He bites his nails and swallows it. And a bit got stuck in his throat.
B: Urgh! Who bites their nails and swallows it? Gack!
A: Yeah? Well – sorry to ruin your world, Shell, but a lot of people do. And not everyone who picks their nose flicks it, neither.

the difference between men & women

it’s not eavesdropping if everyone can hear
and they certainly aren’t shy, jackie & mike
a middle-aged couple, tans, teeth, tattoos
laughing so raucously if you closed your eyes
you’d think their heads flipped back at the neck
like pez dispensers

‘I said to her, I said You’re a good looking woman. What work have you had done?’
‘My God! If that doesn’t sum up the difference between men and women!’
‘I don’t see anything wrong in telling a woman she’s lovely, Jackie.’
‘No, Mike. It’s what you wrap it up in does all the damage’

An announcement on the tannoy
something about cars & luggage
and I lose the rest of that conversation
picking it up again on depilation

‘I’d have my balls done, no question. It’s nice to have tidy balls.
I’m not so sure about the arse crack, though
I wouldn’t want someone fiddling around back there.’
‘Why? They’ve just been fiddling around with your balls.’
‘Yeah, I know, Jackie, but – here comes the science bit: concentrate
a man’s balls hang round the front. Where you can keep an eye on them.’

The tannoy again. Something about
a horn blast, sinking, life jackets, mustering points, blah.
I pick up the conversation again on the subject of reproduction.

‘It’s true, Mike. Everyone’s female the first few weeks.
It’s the man’s sperm that decides
whether you stay female or go male.
It’s all about the chromosomes.
That’s why women are the purer sex.
And why everyone’s got nipples.
Do you want me to Google it for you?’
He reaches across the table and strokes her hand.
‘No, love. Relax. You’re on holiday.’

The tannoy goes again.

Mike checks his watchchromosomes
Jackie necks her drink.
‘Time for a quickie?’ he says
rattling his empty cup in the air.
‘I thought you’d never ask’ she says
and gets out her compact and brush
whilst Mike heads unsteadily
in the direction of the bar.