The Italian Stallion

I said that one day I’d get round to talking about him, and since I’ve nothing more pressing to relate, today’s the day…

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, The Italian Stallion was the main man in my life.

Although, as the name suggests, he was physically delectable – the phrase “hunktastic, muscle-bound stud muffin” would be no exaggeration – this wasn’t some passing fling based on animal attraction. No, this was the longest relationship in my dating history: we were together for almost five years.

Despite his brawny body and penchant for skin-tight t-shirts, the Italian Stallion was actually rather a quiet sort. He wasn’t exactly shy, he just had little need of others around him.

We met when I was living in Sicily – when I was teaching English, to be precise. He was my star pupil: homework always done, he never missed a lesson and was never late, despite working in his uncle’s bar 20km away and finishing his shift just 30 minutes before the start of class.

After completing the elementary course with flying colours and taking time out to do his military service, he decided to enrol for private lessons … which, after several months, became suddenly and unexpectedly more private: he took me to dinner to celebrate my birthday … and that was that.

To be honest, I never expected the relationship to last: seven years my junior, he was definitely toyboy material; I was sure his interest in me would soon wane. But the weeks turned into months, and then into years. And when I moved back to the UK – much to his mother’s consternation – he decided to come with me.

The night before our departure she took me to one side and, in a confidential tone, imparted the crucial information that I would need if I were to make a go of looking after her boy: he likes his pasta with ricotta salata, not parmesan, and too much salame will give him haemorrhoids.


Thus equipped, we made our way to the UK together, where we lived happily for a few more years. I think everyone expected us to be together forever. I’m sure I did.

And so, you might be wondering, where did it all go wrong?

Well, in some ways it would have been great to live happily ever after with The Italian Stallion: he was loyal, dependable and constant in his affections. (Since he was a red-blooded Sicilian male, I’m reluctant to apply the word ‘faithful’, although as far as I know I never had any cause for concern.)

I loved him and my family loved him, and I’m sure we could have tootled along quite happily for many years to come. And yet … and yet …

The age thing was of some concern to me: clearly, I’d be thinking babies well before he would. But that aside, the biggest difference between us was that he was always happy with what he’d got. He never really wanted anything more.

Now, you might think that this is an admirable quality, and in many ways I’m inclined to agree. But the truth is that I’m just not like that: I’m always looking forward to the next thing. New faces, new places, new experiences … it’s what I need to feel alive.

And in my quest for the new and exciting, I want to be out and about as much as possible, meeting new people, visiting new countries, trying new things.

At first, I tried to drag him along with me, until I realised that he was happy as he was. He wasn’t suffering in this new adopted country where he knew no one; he was perfectly content. He was more than happy to stay home, in his own company. And I knew that that would never be enough for me.

So, with a heavy heart, I called time on the relationship.

It wasn’t easy to break up; I still loved him. And, although in infrequent contact, we remain fond of each other to this day. Ironically, for someone who never actively looked for change, he now lives in another country. I still send Christmas cards to his family, and his mum still calls me on my birthday. For many years, I wondered if I’d done the right thing.

However, we met briefly last year and for the first time, I felt no pangs of regret. Because although affection can stay rooted in the past, real life goes on. We grow and change, and people that were once on a similar path find that the road slowly, slowly diverges over time.

Who can say if our path would have divided if we’d stayed together? We’re very different people now, bound by a common affection that’s based on history more than any current assessment of each other’s character or circumstance.

But it’s nice to know that, despite everything, there’s someone out there who you remember – and who remembers you – with fondness, as The One That Got Away.


Here comes the sun

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you … the sun!

Yes, after weeks and weeks and weeks of desperately damp dullness, we’ve finally been given the chance to bask in glorious, golden waves of warmth. And about time, too: any more rain and I’d have put Noah on speed dial.

Yup, there’s little more cheering than a few rays of sun. It’s fascinating to watch how we pasty Brits unfurl like flowers, turning our faces to the unfamiliar glow and exposing as much milky-white flesh as possible. What’s more, we start to smile. Even at strangers. Weird, no?

Although I’ll pretty much talk to anyone, at any time, I’m just as sun-crazed as the next (wo)man. It’s no exaggeration to say that I run on solar power: full of energy and life in the scant summer months, I struggle my way through the gloom the rest of the time. So when the sun comes out, I’m as happy as a pig in poop.

At the moment, though, my energy’s on turbo boost because – at the risk of being a soppy old stick – not only is the sun shining (however temporarily), I’m also being showered with affection on a daily basis. Who could ask for more?

But even though it’s utter bliss to be customarily kissed and cuddled, if I’m honest, the benefits are more than just snog-related: this little adventure has worked wonders for my self-esteem.

Whilst I know this is only a temporary arrangement, it’s convinced me that I’m not on the scrap heap; that there is someone who finds me loveable and is happy to pass extended periods of time in my company. (And thank goodness for that, ‘cause for a while there, I was starting to lose hope…)

It’s nice to take someone else’s feeling into consideration – from what to have for dinner to where to go on the weekend, it’s all a bit more fun when you’re thinking for two.

I’ve discovered I like having someone to care for; I enjoy learning new preferences and predilections, and my diet’s improved because I’m cooking a proper meal rather than hoovering a sandwich on the hoof.

In short, what’s not to like?

Best of all, I’m not even fearful of The End, because there’s a pre-defined cut-off point that’s not dependent on how appealing or attentive I am. It’s out of my hands.

Nothing I can say or do will change the circumstances, so this little bubble of happiness will remain intact, unsullied by future arguments and disagreements. For once, I’m not afraid of cocking it up, which means I can really relax and enjoy it.

And maybe that’s the bigger lesson for me. Maybe if I took the same carefree approach with all my relationships, maybe – just maybe – I wouldn’t be on my own right now.

Hmmm. There’s something to think about for the future. But right now I’ve got other things to think about…

If you’ll excuse me, there’s a hug with my name on it here. I don’t want to keep it waiting.

Free coffee and further flirtation

Ooh, it’s hard to open my eyes this morning.

I’m on my way to work, but my brain thinks it’s still tucked up in bed. Not even the warm air and morning sunshine can clear my head. It’s definitely time for a coffee.

I’m rummaging in my bag for my purse, when I remember the voucher I’d been given just a few days ago – a voucher for a freebie espresso in the coffee bar next door. Perfect.

More than ready for my caffeine fix, I breeze into the bar to claim my spoils. The barista (no, not the Sexy Barista) is about to set the coffee machine in motion, when his colleague says to him, in Italian,

“Has she filled it in?”

Now, if you don’t speak Italian, you might not know that ‘she’ is also the polite form of ‘you’. So his question could mean, “Has she filled it in?” or, “Have you filled it in?”

Even though it’s quite clear that he was addressing his colleague, not me, his question was quite brusquely phrased, so Barista No. 2 blushes when I reply – in Italian – that no, I haven’t filled it in… and what exactly was I supposed to be filling in, anyway?

“Ah … um … sorry! I didn’t mean you … I was talking to him,” he stammers. “You have to fill in your name and email address on the back of the voucher.”

I turn my voucher over. It’s completely blank.

Smiling apologetically, he hands me another voucher, which has neat little boxes for my details, and a pen.

“Sorry,” he says again. “I didn’t have you down as Italian.”

“No,” I reply. “That’s because I’m not.”

He looks confused for a moment, then recovers his composure and slips into flirt mode: oh, but I speak Italian so well – how come? Where am I from? Where in Italy did I live? For how long? What took me to Italy? How marvellously I speak Italian!

I can’t help but smile.

I answer all his questions as I sip my coffee, then thank them both and wish them a good day.

“Wait! Wait!” he says, as I head towards the door. “Let me give you another voucher then you’ll come again tomorrow.”

He hands it over, in flirt overdrive now, and bids me goodbye.

Thanking him, I saunter elegantly off, praying that my killer heels, the highly polished floor and my ever-ready Aura of Disaster let me get out of the door without any major mishaps. But for once, my luck holds and I make it out unscathed.

As I set off for work again my phone pings, announcing the arrival of a text message. It’s from Uni Boy, and it contains just three words:

“See you tonight?”

Suddenly I’m wide awake and there’s a spring in my step, not to mention a big, stupid grin on my face. If I were in a cartoon, there’s be songbirds around my shoulders and small, soft animals nuzzling my hand.

But, of course, this state of affairs can’t last; there has to be a fly in the ointment.

The fun and frolics with Uni Boy are on a timer that’s counting down all too quickly to a point in the very near future. Yes, in just a few short weeks, Uni Boy’s work will take him overseas, where he’ll remain for goodness knows how long.

But I refuse to think about that yet. For now, the sun’s out, my heart’s happy and my soul’s full of joy … I’m luxuriating in his company and I’m flipping well going to enjoy it, however long or little it lasts.

Cupid gets his bum into gear

Sometimes, you have to smile at fate. Especially when fate’s smiling at you.

To be honest, the day had started pretty badly: I’d just found out that The One I Almost Married is about to become a daddy – which provoked mixed feelings, to say the least.

Actually, to say mixed feelings is a bit of a lie. It mostly provoked just one feeling: a tragic, wailing sentiment of, “Waaaaaahhhhhhhhh! Not fair!!!” Childish, I know, but sometimes you have to give way to your inner toddler and just let it grizzle.

In fact, I sniffle and sob intermittently for a good couple of hours. Even when I stop, I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself: it seems so unfair that someone who didn’t particularly want children should be on the road to domestic bliss, when I’m still all on my lonesome. In short, I’m miffed that he’s happier than I am.

As I think this, I realise what a big baby I’m being.

Sure, he’s got something I’d like, but then so have plenty of other people. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, the only thing that’s making me unhappy here is my own good self. I can choose to wallow in my self-pity, or I can choose to look on the bright side.

I take a moment to reflect.

The One I Almost Married had a fairly low tolerance level for troublesome noise, and also a reasonably short temper. I picture him holding a screaming child…

… and suddenly, something changes inside of me. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like a tragedy. It feels like a lucky escape.

I hold on to that thought before it can get away and I decide that tonight’s going to be a celebration. I’m going to hit the town and paint it all the colours of the rainbow! My mood is buoyant and I’m ready for a party, so I put on my sexiest dress, my slinkiest heels and a generous squoosh of my favourite feelgood scent.

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I am radiant, and this town isn’t big enough to hold me.

I make a couple of calls, and before long, a taxi arrives. I make it to the station with moments to spare, and tearing down the platform, I jump on the train; I’m in London within the hour.

As I push through the crowded bar, looking for my friends, my spirits are high and my soul is sparkling. Everyone’s in a good mood, the music is great, and there’s plenty of animated banter. The Darkly Intriguing Man From The Gym texts to ask where I am, but I’m fed up of the lack of progress in that corner, so I fire off a quick reply then switch off my phone.

The group is large, and there are a few people I don’t know. I start introducing myself, but as I offer my hand to a particularly handsome guy in a dark red shirt, my friends start laughing.

“You don’t recognise him, do you?”

I look harder. Oh my goodness! No wonder I didn’t recognise him!

In our uni days, this guy was chubby, spotty and wore clothes three sizes too big for him. He was always a nice guy, but now he’s lost the chubbiness of youth and is looking pretty sharp. In fact, he’s lean, broad shouldered and sartorially splendid.

Uni Boy has really grown up.

Laughing, I apologise and we start to catch up on the news; it’s been over a decade, so there’s plenty to say. He tells me about his travels, his job, who he’s still in touch with, who’s got kids and who married who. He compliments me on my outfit and I tell him he’s looking pretty good, too.

Around us, the conversation flows, drinks are bought and passed around … and still we keep talking. The volume in the bar increases; everyone is shouting and laughing, so we shout to hear ourselves above the din.

And then, something miraculous happens.

I can’t actually see the cherubim and seraphim hanging round, but I’m sure they must be there. Because one minute Uni Boy and I are chatting casually, the next we’re kissing and laughing and kissing some more.

The thought of kissing him had never even crossed my mind before, but now excitement is fizzing inside me like shaken champagne. Who knew it would be so much fun? In fact, it’s so much fun that we talk and laugh (and kiss) until four o’clock in the morning. Giddy with excitement and drunk on his kisses, I’m as content as a cat on a radiator.

I may have berated his arrow-slinging in the past, but on this occasion I take a moment to send a silent thank you Cupid and his erratic archery. For once, he’s right on time.

I might not have a baby and a ready-made family waiting for me at home, but as consolation prizes go, I think I got one of the best.

Strong liquor and a stunned silence

It’s my last evening in Croatia, and I’m dedicating it to the humungous portion of pašticada that’s sitting in front of me: two thumping great slices of beef, marinaded for two days in red wine, served in a deliciously thick gravy with a small mountain of gnocchi-like dumplings. Delicious!

After 20 minutes of committed chomping, I’ve barely scratched the surface of Dumpling Mountain, so I admit defeat and ask the waitress for a glass of šljivovica, the local firewater.

It’s doing its digestional stuff quite nicely, when the she returns with another glass. I look at her quizzically; her expression is halfway between amusement and embarrassment.

“The gentleman in the corner sent this for you.”

My eyebrows disappear into my hairline, and I’m not sure what to do. I’ve seen this sort of thing in films, but it’s never happened to me in real life. If I accept the drink, what else am I accepting? Croatians seem like reasonable people, but I’ve lived in Sicily, where saying hello to an unknown man could give him the impression that you’re desperate to have his babies. So naturally, I’m a bit wary.

We look at each other for a few moments as she holds the glass out to me.

“I… er… well… ummm… thank you,” I say, finally taking the glass.

Of course, the acceptance of the drink is swiftly followed by the arrival of my admirer … if I can call him that. Surely there’s scant little to admire: I’m dressed in hiking boots and a waterproof, and I’ve not seen a hairbrush for a week or more. Still, each to his own.

Anyway, I’m thankful that Ivo – for that is my admirer’s name – has a greater command of English than I do of Croatian. He tells me that he’s an engineer of “ship things” and that although he’s always lived in Split, he’s visited Ramsgate for work, and found it very similar to Split. (“Apart from the sun,” I’m tempted to say, but I hold my tongue.)

He smokes more than anybody I’ve ever met, and I tell him so. He shrugs.

“I don’t smoke a lot in the day,” he claims, unconvincingly. “Just at night, with a drink… you know.”

I remind him of this as he pulls out a second packet of cigarettes. He just smiles and empties his pockets onto the table: ‘normal’ ciggies, menthol, and cigarillos. Plus a spare packet of the standard smokes, just in case.

We chat about this and that, and he insists on ordering more šljivovica, which I am mindful to drink very little of. Although he seems like a nice guy, a girl on her own can never be too careful. But the evening passes very pleasantly, and we’re both surprised when the waitress tells us that we’re welcome to sit for as long as we like, but her shift is finished and would we mind paying the bill?

There’s a brief, awkward moment where he attempts to pay for my dinner as well as the drinks, but I insist and press the money on him. He eventually accepts it, shrugging his shoulders in incomprehension.

It’s almost 1am, so he insists on walking me home. If I’m honest, my antennae are on red alert, as experience tells me that many a reasonable gentleman has turned unreasonable at the moment of saying goodnight.

But Ivo is the perfect gentleman. He walks me to the end of the street, and wishes me a good night.

“Maybe,” he says, “we could exchange emails. If you would like. But only if you would like.”

So we do, then we shake hands politely and he’s gone.


Although I could never be with a guy who smokes like a kipper, Ivo scores pretty highly on the gentleman scale. Plus he’s over 25 and below 55.

For once, I’m completely and utterly lost for words.

Under pressure (aka unsuitable man #5)

It’s two o’clock on a gorgeously sunny afternoon, and I’m dangling my feet in the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic sea. Yep, we’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.

After three weeks of almost incessant rain, it’s an absolute joy to be sitting in the Croatian sunshine; it’s a balmy 25 degrees and, thanks to a light sea breeze, the air is fresh and light. In fact it’s pretty idyllic, and you might even be jealous, were it not for the guy who’s warbling away next to me.

He’s a young guy, probably in his early thirties, and despite the early hour, he’s surrounded by a fug of alcohol, a plastic cup of evil-smelling liquid balanced precariously in his hand. He’s singing an English song – though not one I recognise – and I can’t help but feel it’s a bid to attract my attention. Call me anti-social, but I studiously ignore it.

In the face of my indifference, the singing gets louder, and less musically accurate. Eventually, he turns to me and says, slowly and with appropriate gravitas:

“Freddie Mercury.”

My expression must betray my lack of comprehension, because he valiantly attempts to focus and tries again.

“I… LOVE… Freddie Mercury. I am number one fan.”

Now I’ve never really understood mainland Europe’s fascination with Queen. Sure, they were a great band in their time, but in certain countries, they’re still treated with a respect bordering on religious. It’s a sentiment I struggle to understand, so I murmur something non-committal and smile encouragingly, which he immediately takes as a sign to continue.


He tells me about his bedroom, how it’s filled with Freddie Mercury paraphernalia, and how he’s almost certainly got more Freddie merchandise than… ooh, anyone else in the world.

“Wow,” I say, obligingly. “Good for you!”

My enthusiasm gives him licence to continue, so he starts listing all the live albums in his possession. Who knew Queen’s discography was so extensive? Eventually, he grinds to a halt and leans in towards me, conspiratorially.

“When he die, Freddie Mercury tell his people to find Top 3 fans. He tell them, “Go to internet, find Top 3 fans! ” I am one of Top 3 fans.”

Again, I utter something vaguely congratulatory, but he’s not done yet.

“He give me money. Freddie Mercury, he give money to Top 3 fans. For him, not much money. Money like…. pffff! ”

Here, he makes an extravagant hand gesture to symbolise how derisory this amount was to Mr Mercury, in the face of all his millions.

“For Freddie Mercury, little money. But for me, BIG money. I live good, I no work. Lots of money.”

Crumbs, whatever he’s drinking has done for his grey cells. The guy’s off his rocker.

But now he’s trying to focus again, and his manner turns grandiose. Imperious, even.

“I take you out. We have good time.”

He looks at me expectantly, with a confident air. How could I refuse a date with Freddie Mercury’s favourite son. How could I?

But guess what? I do.

I pat his arm consolingly as turn him down, and he looks momentarily crestfallen. But before I’ve gone five paces, he’s back in his own world, wailing tunelessly.

I, meanwhile, can’t help wondering what it is that makes me such a nutter magnet. All I ask is for one normal, single male, in possession of his faculties, and all his own teeth. Is that too much to ask?

But before I even pose the question, I know the answer: apparently, it is…

And now for something completely different…

So, I went for coffee with the Darkly Intriguing Man From The Gym and of course it was very pleasant, as always. He’d even brought me a present from his recent trip home. Charming, no?

We sit for two coffees, one after the other, chatting about this and that, with no particular aim or direction. It’s all very civilised.

We’ve got the platonic nature of our friendship down to a fine art now. There is absolutely no flirtation in our meetings. None whatsoever. Which on the one hand is good, as it makes me feel better about the whole thing. But on the other hand … what’s the point? Until he’s firmly and incontrovertibly single, this friendship isn’t going anywhere.

Back at my desk, I’m flicking idly through a newsletter, pondering the cruel twist of fate that presents me with a man who’s tall(ish), dark and handsome; has all his own teeth; has never used a ‘LOL’ in all our correspondence; is intelligent, funny, interested in me AND Body Combat … but who fails on the one most important criterion: that of being 100% single.

If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry.

Still, I’m thinking that as pleasant as our little meet-ups are, it’s probably time to look elsewhere. Sitting here cursing the fates is just wasting time. Maybe I should get started on my action plan – start working out how to meet more single men, for a start.

I’m still thinking about it when a small news article catches my eye:

“Would you like the chance to participate in a unique television programme looking at how relationships are formed and what it takes to truly connect with someone? This summer, we’re looking for single women who believe it’s time for a fresh start in their search for someone special. For more information please email us with your name, age and contact details.”

Well, what the heck, eh? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I rattle off a quick email, briefly outlining my hopeless situation, obediently tacking contact details to the end of the message.

Not 15 minutes later, the phone rings. It’s a chatty young lady, wanting to know more about me and my relationship history. We go through the drought of the last two years, touching on my ‘under 25, over 55’ niche and the brief interlude with The Young Swede. We mention The One I Almost Married and the Italian Stallion (I’ve never really mentioned him before; perhaps I will one day…).

She tells me that the programme involves three women living in a very nice house for eight weeks and meeting up to 100 men.

100 men!!!!

“It’s not like a dating show,” she tells me, “it’s more about how relationships develop.”


At the end of the conversation, she thanks me for my time, and asks me to send her a couple of photos, “just so that we can put a face to the name when I present you to my director”.

I dig out the least unflattering mugshots I can find and send them off before I can change my mind. It sounds like a bit of a barmy idea, but it could, I think, be a lot of fun.

That evening, I go for coffee with a male friend, and I tell him about it all.

“Oh, jeez!” he says, “that sounds hellish, doesn’t it?!”

Does it? I thought it sounded like fun.

“Well, of course!” he exclaims. “You know what this kind of programme’s like…”

To be honest, I sort of do. But since I don’t own a TV, perhaps I also sort of don’t.

In any case, I’m sure his perspective (mid-twenties, plenty of fish in the sea) is quite different from mine (mid-thirties, aaarrrrrggggggggghhh!!!).

And besides, I’ve tried and failed with all the usual methods of finding a man. So, what the heck. I reckon it must be time for something completely different…