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.

Wow.

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.

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The (gasp!) semi-suitable man

In the midst of my unparalleled success with pensioners and men too young to shave, you could be forgiven for thinking that I never meet anyone that remotely floats my boat.

Not so.

I recently met a young (but not too young) man who both floated my boat AND set my heart a-flutter.

In fact, he’s an old friend (perfect: no nasty skeletons in the closet), who’s quite tall, quite dark and reasonably handsome. So far, so good.

He’s also intelligent, great company and has all his own teeth. Excellent. What’s more, he’s within FIVE years of my own age (younger, but that’s fine). He’s even got himself a fitness regime since we last got together and is looking buffer than ever.

And what’s more, I think maybe – just maybe – he likes me, too.

So, you might be wondering, what on earth’s stopping me?

Well, if I’m being picky (but let’s be clear, I’m not) I’d say he’s a workaholic who’s not especially chivalrous, but I can live with that. And since we’re both a bit backwards in coming forwards, I’m not 100% sure that he’s as keen as I am. Although you don’t spend two hours on the phone to someone you feel only ‘meh’ about … do you?

No, the real stumbling block of this relationship is a small, but not insignificant, factor that effectively puts the kibosh on any potential romance: he lives in Australia.

Now, I know that the world has never been smaller, etc., etc., but Oz is still an incredibly loooong way away. And the irony of the situation is that we got together a few times while he was still in Europe, but the sparks only flew on my Christmas hols Down Under, where he moved just a short time ago.

Ever get the feeling Cupid’s laughing up his sleeve?

In an ideal world, we’d be able to hang out a bit, enjoy each other’s company, see how things go. But these simple things become a little more challenging when your potential beau isn’t even in the same hemisphere.

Even assuming that he IS as keen as I am, he can’t come here (he’s contracted for another year or two) and I can’t go there (trying to prise anything but a holiday visa from the Australian authorities is like trying to steal a joey from a mummy roo’s pouch), so it’s hard to see where this will end.

Is it worth having a crush on someone who’s 10,000 miles away?

For now, Skype is our friend, and we chat for hours at inconvenient times of the day and night.
All I can do is enjoy his company while it’s there … and give Cupid a black eye when I see him.

The One I Almost Married

By cataloguing my extensive failures with the opposite sex, I’m aware I may be painting myself in a less than flattering light.

Now, I’m no Claudia Schiffer, I’ll admit, but I keep myself in pretty good shape. And although there’s no research to back up the assertion, I’d like to think that on a good day I’m a 7.5 out of 10. But the facts stand for themselves: I’m as single as can be. There’s no-one quietly admiring me from a distance (as far as I know) and no-one sitting waiting for my booty call.

But it was not always thus. No, indeed. Of course, I refer to The One I Almost Married.

TOIAM was the first guy I’ve ever taken a shine to on impact: out for dinner with friends, we caught each other’s eye almost immediately, and cunningly arranged another group dinner for the following night. Saying goodbye at the bus stop, he invited me for dinner before we kissed, to seal the deal. And that was that.

I couldn’t believe my luck. Tall, dark, handsome, charming, sexy, entertaining … neither too old nor too young … I thought I’d hit the jackpot. Despite not really speaking the same language (although I learned a few words), I even hit it off with his mother.

No one was surprised when we started talking about marriage and eyeing up engagement rings when we went shopping. Moving in together seemed like a natural progression.

Which is why everyone was surprised – and no one more than me – when he left me six weeks later.
It’s the kind of thing that takes your view of the world and gives it a short, sharp shake, upending your heart and all your vital organs in the process.

But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Having removed the rose-tinted glasses, I can see that, actually, he was a bit lazy, preferring to pay people to do things for him, rather than get off his bum and do them himself. And, in many ways, I would actually have been marrying my dad. Not a thought that any respectable young lady would like to entertain.

He, of course, is happily ensconced with another young lady. They seem happy together… and good luck to them both. By contrast, it took me months to want to even look at a man. And now that I’ve finally started looking, I’m finding that there aren’t many candidates out there.

So, for the moment… Yes, you guessed it … still bloody single!