Does anyone else remember those days, so long ago, when young women would look askance if you dared to talk to them without a proper introduction? If there was an older woman with her, one had to talk to her first. Back to the days of chaperons it seemed. But no more.
I’m nearly 70, so, it seems, my approaches are to be encouraged. Just a couple of weeks ago, when I was on my own in Neros enjoying a skinny latte, a woman, a young woman, a young attractive woman, a young attractive woman in a short skirt, in fact a woman who was fit in both the old and new bastardised meaning of the word, came to my table and asked if she could sit on the free seat. There was no other free table, but at least half a dozen unoccupied chairs, and out of this, albeit reduced, selection she had chosen to sit with me. At the very least I was the best of a bad lot.
I did the very British thing of stating the obvious: “It’s very crowded for a Wednesday.” She looked around, as if she hadn’t already stood for a minute or so, coffee and croissant in hands, doing the same thing.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, a rather delightful North Country accent gracing her voice. “I can see you are working.” pointing towards my laptop.
I said I’d finished. She asked what I was doing, if I didn’t mind her asking. I said I was writing an article for a website and then, in little time, I was told she had broken with her boyfriend of nearly three years (“I’m dreadfully sorry.” “Oh, don’t be.” “It’s always a shame when any love affair comes to an end.” “But I feel positive about it. I’m free” “To do what?”)
I was then told her hopes, her ambitions, her dreams and her destination. Italy as it turned out, to live near her mother, who was divorced from her father after she ran off with a Frenchman, but everyone was friends, although there was a big argument one Christmas get-together. After this little trip around Europe, I apologised for having to go under the table to unplug my laptop and stated that I would not take the opportunity to stare at her legs. She laughed.
I could never had had such a conversation, where personal and intimate details were received, with a strange, and rather lovely, woman when I was 25. Or 35 or 45 come to that. I discovered I was seen as safe. The sad thing was, she was probably right.
I saw an odd thing play out in front of me one Wednesday – another signal of age, every Wednesday morning it is Neros in Haywards Heath day – whilst queuing for my latte. There were about five before me. Next but one in front was a rather slim young woman, perhaps 25, with expensively coiffured short hair, wearing a business suit: dark blue, with a fine light blue stripe. It was feminised by a tight waist and a frilly white blouse. She had a skirt just above the knees, nylon tights and 2″ high heels which, with her being above average height, made her stand out of the crowd not only through her attractiveness.
Pushing past from the back of the queue came another woman of around the same age. She was shorter, heavier but not fat, and dressed in a rather shapeless but low cut blouse, jeans and flat shoes. There were other differences: she looked a little rushed, her hair had seen a brush, but from a distance, and her make up amounted to just a few dabs of whatever women dab on their faces.
With a peremptory “Oh, you don’t mind, do you?” to those queuing she went up to the woman in the business suit and exclaimed, “Claire! It is you, isn’t it?” Claire, for she admitted who she was, seemed to recognise the women but to have trouble placing her. The bejeaned woman mentioned school, the fun they had, and how she always knew the other one would do well.
“Hello, Emily,” said Claire. “I haven’t seen you since . . . ” She struggled to pull the memory forward, then relieved when the jeans woman mentioned a post school party.
“You went off to university, didn’t you?” said Emily jeans. It was almost an accusation.
Arrangement were then made for buying the drinks, Claire opting for a small Americano and soya milk, the other not.
I ended up sitting near to where the two women were – not by design as this was another Wednesday that was busy – Emily facing me and the other just showing her back. They looked an odd couple. Claire (not the real name) sitting back in the chair rather elegantly with coffee in hand, and the other woman talking, leaving short gaps for Claire to nod. It was all domestic chatter. Then Claire was asked what she was ‘up to’.
Claire had graduated, what she had been reading was not disclosed, and she had got a job with a well known international company. She had toured a lot of the world, only just returning from some Middle Eastern place that she found too hot. She then mentioned that she was engaged, although she did not push her left hand towards her confidant as almost any other woman would do, but from where I was sitting I could see she had a ring on her left ring finger.
Her tone was conversational, giving facts quickly, barely and in a clear, well-modulated voice. Then something strange happened.
The bejeaned woman leaned over the table towards Claire and pushed her shoulders forward, exposing her breasts and much of her bra. Now I’m not that old. I can remember girls doing this to me either as a come-on (all too infrequently) or when teasing me. But why should the jeans woman do this to Claire. Then it came to me. Claire was slim. She was not particularly well endowed in the pectoral region. Jeans was getting one up, perhaps two, on her successful ex-school mate. A small victory but, probably, the only one she could hope for.
I left before they departed.