Monday, 1 August 2011

Finding ‘The One’

It’s a tricky business, finding ‘The One’. Whether you believe in there being just one person in the whole wide world with ‘Property of <<Alison Staples>>’ stamped on their DNA. Or whether you believe there are many that you could make a fair fist of and it’s just a matter of timing and luck. Whether you leave things to chance or proactively go out searching, throughout my dating career, believe me I’ve attacked it from all angles!

Last weekend got me thinking. Tris and a group of friends cycled the coast to coast ‘Way of the Roses’. The finishing point was on the promenade in Bridlington, a traditional English seaside resort on the Yorkshire coast. The sun was shining, there were donkeys on the beach and returning into the harbour was a pleasure cruiser, bringing people back from a trip to see the ‘best view of Flamborough Head’.

The boat was The Yorkshire Belle and if it wasn’t for that boat, and a complex set of circumstances leading up to a chance meeting, I wouldn’t be here entertaining you today.

It was spring 1933 when Florence Schofield, recently returned from an unsuccessful emigration attempt to Canada, left Leeds for a day trip to Bridlington. On that same day, Ernest Staples, recently returned from building boats, roofing houses and making coffins in Kent left Bradford for a day trip to Bridlington. 

Florence was 32 years old, a teacher and 5ft 8 inches. Ernest was 31 years old, a craftsman (turning his hand to anything during the depression) and 5ft 4 inches. When Ernest fell down the steps of The Yorkshire Belle and landed in Florence’s lap it was the start of a great love story.

It felt quite strange to be standing there, looking at the very vessel where it all began. I wonder how many other people can trace their lineage back to a pleasure cruiser! 

When you think about it, the same could be said of all of us – the product of chance encounters based on un-important decisions that just as easily might not have happened.

When my dad started to woo my mum, she wasn’t at all interested. He was the new curate, she taught at the local school and together they ran the church youth group. She thought he had a wandering eye – turns out he did – literally. Once he’d had his astigmatism diagnosed and collected the prescription for his new glasses, he faired much better. 

But she still wasn’t sure, so when, in 1963, he asked her where she would like to go on their first date she chose the most expensive place she could think of (good girl)! 

Dad, being a curate was paid mostly in ‘The love of God’ rather than in cold hard cash but to his credit he duly booked the restaurant. 

The restaurant was the kind which had two ‘sittings’ per evening. You sat in the lounge, drank a sweet sherry and read the menu before moving through to the dining room together. Mum and dad were the last ones to arrive for the early sitting. All the chairs in the lounge were taken bar two. One was a normal chair the other was a child’s rocking chair. Being a gentleman, dad offered the normal chair to mum and then squeezed himself into the child’s chair.  

They chatted politely and when it came time to dine they both stood up. This went without incident for mum, but for dad – he got up and took the chair with him. He was wedged. It took several of the other guests to un-cork him while mum hid behind her menu. 

When it came to the menu choices, mum chose the most expensive things listed. I can imagine dad mentally resigning himself to oxo broth in his bachelor bedsit for the rest of the month to finance it. 

The finale however came at the end of the evening. Their late arrival meant that not only was there no space in the lounge - there was no space in the car park either. Dad had been forced to park his beloved Ford Anglia (‘Angela’) on the grass verge at the side of the road. It had been an unusually wet month, so when dad started her up (Angela that is), the wheels turned but the car refused to move. They were stuck in the mud. So mum in her best kitten heels and pearls had to get out and push. 

They were married on May 9th 1964 and mum spent the next 38 years pushing dad out of the proverbial mud. 

When I was little I would sit in the back of the car on the motorway and day dream about the man I would marry. I’d look at the cars going in the opposite director and think ‘I wonder if he’s in that one?’ ‘Or maybe that one?’ ‘I wonder who it will be?’ To me it was just a question of finding him. 

As it turns out, I probably walked past Tris anonymously in the street many times before I actually met him. When he was roaming the streets of Southampton as a student, I was working just a few miles away. We overlapped by two years. While he was running around with his student friends with a traffic cone on his head, I was having driving lessons, wondering where all the road signs had gone. 

When I moved up to Sheffield, he was visiting his sister who was studying medicine there. We were both in Bristol for the millennium and when I moved to Manchester in 1996, he was already there doing his PhD. We could have met at any of these points, but in the end we actually found each other when our paths crossed five years ago in cyberspace. 

In the mean time, my search to find ‘the one’ was taking me on numerous adventures. After finding love as a student, if only fleetingly, I went through a bit of a barren spell. Fast forward through un-requited crushes and an expedition to the south coast, to meet up with an old student friend who took me country and western line dancing for the over 70’s on Worthing Pier, got drunk on gin, claimed to have seen Elvis in the toilets and then passed out. He was too hung over to function the next day so I slunk back up the M1 in a massive fog of anti-climax. 

My next foray of note was also my first foray into internet dating. It was February 13th 1999 and I had a big deadline at work, so I’d taken myself to my friend Gill’s. She had her own computer – and the internet! 

Gill’s internet provider was AOL (America on Line) and with it being the day before Valentine’s the AOL homepage was similarly themed. Depressed at the thought of yet another Valentine’s Day without even a secret admirer my attention was drawn to an advert ‘Find Love @ AOL’. 

Curious I clicked on the advert which led to a map of the US with the option to click on a state. ‘Hmmm’ I thought ‘South Carolina. Sounds like a girl’s name, I’ll click on that’. The next menu invited you to click on a city. ‘Hmmmmm’ I thought, ‘Charleston, that’s a dance, I’ll click on that one’, and from the result of a series of totally random choices I found a ‘Green Eyed Professional’! 

‘rdkill93’ or Mike as I later grew to know him, was an all American, Ferris Bueller type. Sitting in Gill’s box room in Wilmslow seemed like a million miles away from St Elmo’s fire. When I typed ‘Hello, my name is Alison and I’m writing from across the pond’, and pressed <<Send>>, I never in a million years imagined that three days later I would get a reply. It was the day after his 30th birthday and the day before mine. 

After a few months of e-mailing and on-line chatting, when he idly said ‘You should come visit’, I didn’t need asking twice. I went up to the travel agent that lunch time and booked my ticket to Atlanta. Although I’d never actually spoken to him, I knew it would be fine and that if I didn’t go, I would always wonder. 

My friends on the other hand weren’t so sure. Well, that’s actually not true – they were very sure – they were sure he was going to be an axe wielding murderer. 

When we did finally arrange to speak on the phone (11pm due to the time difference), I decided to treat it like a first date. I bought champagne, dimmed the lights, lit candles and played ‘What can I do to make you love me?’ by The Corrs softly in the background. By 1am I’d drunk the champagne, the candles had burned down to a stump and The Corrs could go f*ck themselves. I pulled the phone cable out of the wall and went to bed thoroughly fed up. Bell-end bloody American tosser!

The next morning I noticed a red blinking light on my answer machine. Although I’d unplugged the phone in a fit of pique, the machine was still working. Heart pounding I hit the play button. It was him. An American voice apologised for not phoning sooner, explained that he had been delayed at work and hoped that we could re-schedule our phone call. I was ecstatic, everything was once more well in the world – game on! 

While I continued to feel 100% confident in Mike and my loan journey to the US, as my departure date approached my friends got progressively more concerned. Unknown to me, one friend, had her husband’s relatives in Charleston check him out to make sure he existed, while other friends made me promise to phone in regularly and devised a coded system where I could raise the alarm if required. 

I was to phone in immediately on arrival. More than five hours late they would phone the police. When I phoned, I had the following options (in case he was holding me hostage and was listening): 

  1. The tea here is very nice – meant ‘Don’t worry everything is fine’.
  2. The tea here is not as good as back home – translated into ‘He’s mental, call 911’.
  3. The tea is great, I’ve dunked my hob-nobs – I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions! 
 By the time I was due to go out Mike had moved two hours up the coast to Myrtle Beach. Atlanta was still the closest international airport so we agreed that I would get The Greyhound Bus to Columbia (about 4hrs) where he would meet me and drive us back to Myrtle Beach (about another 4hrs). 

I’d never heard of ‘hurricane season’ before I booked my flight but with great meteorological skill I’d managed to plan my trip in its very epicentre. The week before I was due to go out Hurricane Floyd started gathering force in the Caribbean. 

Three days before my trip, the whole front page of The Sun newspaper was taken up with a photo taken from space of a massive cloud whirlpool which covered most of south western America. It was enormous. Florida was evacuated. 

Two days before my trip, the Georgia coast was evacuated along with most of South Carolina. Kate Adie did live news updates from Charleston where the hurricane was predicted to land while in the background people tried to stand up in the wind. 

With one day to go, the storm changed its course and came crashing ashore two hours to the north – at Myrtle Beach! With offers of snorkels from my friends, I set off on my adventure, not quite sure what to expect. 

The flight to Atlanta was fine, The Greyhound Bus station in Atlanta was terrifying (I was warned not to speak to anyone). And so I found myself in a parking lot in Columbia SC being met at 3am by a man I’d met on the internet. It doesn’t sound very good does it? But actually it was brilliant. We got on like a house on fire and talked and talked all the way back to his house. And he was cute – bonus! 

After all the build up the Hurricane had caused relatively little damage. I phoned in within the allotted five hours and told everyone that the tea was very good. As a nation, the UK breathed a sigh of relief! 

We spent two weeks going out for lunch, walking on the beach, going to bars and fitted in a spur of the moment road trip down to Florida, sleeping in his Jeep and blagging our way into Disney Land by pretending to be interested in buying a timeshare. 

It all went really well, in fact it probably went a bit too well. After a drunken snog on the second evening nothing else happened. I think we were both having such a good time that we didn’t want to spoil things by making things complicated. 

I did see him again after mum died in 2002. A wildlife reserve close to Myrtle Beach had become my refuge, the place in my head I would go to when I needed to escape the awfulness of what was happening. I vowed that I would only really let go once I was back there. Three months later, Mike took me there riding pillion on his motorbike. 

Though I clearly thought I was Meg Ryan, there was to be no Hollywood ending to this story, by my second visit Mike’s new girlfriend, now wife was pregnant. They called their first son Tristan. How weird is that?

When I was ill and thinking about how my life, I thought about whether I’d been brave and taken chances. I look to my American adventure, smile and think – ‘Hell yeah’! 

A few more barren years and I was desperate and bored enough to give internet dating another go. This time I decided to stick to men who shared the same time zone as me. Here follows some of the low-lights: 

  1. So dull I watched the football on the pub TV over his shoulder.
  2. A recovering drug addict and alcoholic who had run strip clubs in LA before being arrested and deported for assaulting a policeman.
  3. Jeff from Buxton who told me about his laminate flooring, and how he liked a nice cup of Bovril when he went to the football.
 ........and many, many others who were clearly so awful I’ve erased them from my memory. 

I’d given up searching and booked my round the world ticket by the time I decided to give cyberspace one last go. It was the point where my path and Tris’ path finally crossed. 

The first words I spoke to him where ‘I’m naked in the changing rooms in Monsoon’, I thought he’d said it was Kris on the phone, rather than Tris. As he apologised and asked if it was a bad time, the penny dropped, it wasn’t my friend Kristian, it was that bloke off the internet – bugger, bugger, bugger! 

Luckily it didn’t seem to phase him. We spoke later and arranged to meet up but I double booked and had to cancel our first date. We finally met up the next evening. I can remember exactly what we were both wearing – he can’t. He remembers the date because it was the first day of the World Cup. It was 9th June 2006.

Although we’ve faced lots of drama in the last five years – between us there has been very little and it’s been wonderful. After twenty years of turbulent dating I was exhausted with it all. It just goes to show that what you think you want isn’t always what you need and sometimes it’s a just a matter of waiting for your paths to finally cross.

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