[For Jeffrey Simmons who knew my treasure when it was hidden even from me]
Just outside the centre of a certain Northern English city stands an innocuous-looking sandwich shop. On the morning of the first Saturday of December 1989 I stepped into that shop and into another world…
Two months short of my thirtieth birthday I was temping as an invoice clerk at a large bus company and due to the most important relationship of my life I was experiencing…difficulties. Yet the joke was I hadn't even wanted a bleedin’ sandwich. I’d wanted Sex a book by John Godolphin Bennett which prior to Sandwich Shop Saturday'd been just another item on an extremely long continuously growing self-compiled things-I-ought-to-read list though that morning jolted awake by the first of many what I can only call violent electric shocks I found myself (pardon the pun) bolt upright in bed my brain positively ablaze with the all-consuming idea I must as though my very life depended on it obtain a copy of the infernal thing - a compulsion so sudden irrational and verging on the disturbing I tried explaining it away with some vaguely defined notion about Jungian-style higher selves maybe alerting me Sex held clues in my longstanding quest to attain a cure for the lingering (though periodically more unbearably intense) ache in the ‘hole’ in one o’the 'back teeth' of my soul - said ‘hole’ a result of my complete inability to stop chewing over the mystery of what I was and why I was the way I was a concern I’d lately been pondering just that bit more intensely in the hope of ‘inadvertently’ stumbling on a ‘cure’ for the even greater ache in the ‘hole’ of one of the ‘back teeth’ of my ‘heart’ - this ‘hole’ resulting from my complete inability to stop chewing over the mystery of my relationship with the fair and beauteous Sarah an awesomely-intelligent eighteen year old who only a year earlier’d been working as a hotel chambermaid in London until a catastrophic glandular condition forced her back to her parents’ in Widnes and ultimate attendance on the same computer programming training course our paths eventually crossed at.
Our difficulties while seemingly beyond all description in their true intense complexity went something like this: although accepting my love for her was real Sarah insisted it was unrealistic because while admitting she reluctantly admitted loving me too it was only as a brother - something she ceaselessly and vehemently maintained and something I ceaselessly and vehemently refused to accept.
O I didn't dispute her belief was genuine it was just I knew in my bones she was utterly wrong even during those inexplicable unheralded moments when she’d suddenly become sufficiently arsed to abandon the pretence of ice cool laissez-faire indifference to me and the rest of the world she liked to maintain to unleash her formidable intellect on my psyche in a tour de force of forensic examinational mastery (ruthlessly and gleefully conducted sans ‘anaesthetic’) utilizing flawless machine-precise logic allied to sheer mechanical relentlessness to inexorably bulldoze me Humpty-Dumpty style over the side of the bottomless abyss of the impossible ‘possibility’ I might actually be wrong.
Yet every time her mental guerrilla warfare like tactics’d grind me down to a gibbering babbling bewildered hyperventilating helium addicted speaker-in-tongues (the failsafe of all males of my line cornered like rats) convincing us both I was finally about to admit she was right I’d suddenly somehow manage to infuriate her and give us both a shock by snapping out my deranged staccato hysteria to instantly become the very avatar of composure and equanimity - a whole other me who’d serenely and suavely announce in the most mellow and controlled of tones how on further reflection I’d now be adopting the new and far more coolheaded perspective while yes it was indeed perfectly possible she was totally correct about EVERYTHING I wasn’t any longer so totally convinced of the IRREFUTABLE conclusiveness of her arguments and henceforth’d only be agreeing to disagree.
…because you see I had this special mental library or 'video collection' as I liked to call it among which were countless 'video tapes' relating to Sarah the most particularly prized of which featured every gesture and phrase of hers it’d ever been my privilege to witness - gestures and phrases which even considered on an individual basis “proved” irrecontrefutably her love for me wasn’t merely sisterly and from time to time I couldn't quite resist the temptation to both astonish and annoy her by 'playing' some of these tapes back to her in spite of knowing she’d always invariably both astonish and irritate me by giving MY utterly “INFALLIBLE” memories alternative and blatantly bogus interpretations causing me to jeer "You're fooling yourself" only the moment we hung up to immediately set those same videos back in action running them over and over for the umpteenth billionth time scrutinising them even more minutely for such apparently trivial details as the tiny but highly revealing vocal nuance or the tell-tale eye-brow twitch wondering all the time whether it really was me who was fooling myself because you see despite my age I was a virgin something about which I wasn't to say the least happy especially as I wasn't sure whether this was by highly reluctant choice or some as yet unidentified neurosis...even if only plain, old-fashioned latent-homosexuality.
O of course from my teenage years onwards I'd masturbated while imagining myself making love to whichever member of the opposite sex I was currently madly in love with but on the other hand (pardon the pun) I'd also turned down girls who'd blatantly propositioned me continuing long afterwards to wonder whether such knock-backs on my part were really due to an inability to separate Sex from Love as I explained it to myself or because I had say some hidden fear of sexual intimacy and yet in all my years of exploring the seams of my psychic fabric I hadn't detected so much as the slightest hint of erotophobic lint so could it really all be just down to some peculiar fear of committing myself (no matter how briefly or shallowly) to other people and could this also be the reason why I kept falling for girls who were either impossible to attain or who claimed to see me as a "brother"? In which case was Sarah then merely the latest "love of my life" and as such just another ploy in this hypothetical life-long life-postponing strategy of mine?
Whenever I’d mercilessly challenge myself to unflinchingly reveal from the most secret and darkest recesses of the heart of my heart what really truly seemed to me the case the answer always unhesitatingly came back I was waiting for the right person adding however this wasn't some romantic notion concerned with saving myself for 'Miss' or 'Ms Right' but rather a peculiar sense (always just out of reach of being brought into focus) sex with someone 'unsuitable'’d have dire and catastrophic consequences…and not just for me.
Anyway it seemed I’d suddenly somehow managed to 'convince' myself the answer somehow lay with the Bennett book and yet that day not a single copy was to be found even in the second-hand bookshops (nor’d repeated flitting back and forth between shops in the hope some member of staff might’ve somehow mysteriously stumbled on a copy and put it out on the shelves in the last ten minutes helped) which of course wasn’t any kind of major revelation because I’d already failed to find even a hint of Sex browsing through the innumerable mental videos I’d acquired over more than a decade’s worth of bookshop visits including the most recent one of only a few days earlier.
Anyway it was absolutely pissing hardcore razors of liquid ice down and because of a preference for travelling by foot my feet were absolutely murdering me because I’d somewhat foolishly made the appalling mistake of putting on a brand new pair of shoes supposedly out of a fear my older - comfortable! - pair might start leaking and so tired downhearted and frustrated all I wanted to do was go home have a cup of tea swallow a couple of painkillers and phone Sarah and o at that moment the one thing I wanted - no needed! - more than anything else on Earth was to hear the gentle refrain of her music-filled voice…because if she was in a good mood then nothing could be more wonderful than listening to her beautiful enchanting tones scintillatingly holding forth on some subject or other but even if she was in a foul mood and God knows she often was! _ well it was still her.
Now if you’re wondering why the hell I didn't just go and see her in Widnes well that was something of a touchy subject between us because although she’d never actually said so in actual words I somehow knew I was absolutely forbidden to as a result of which I hadn't so much as laid eyes on her for at least seven months but in spite of the unusualness of our situation we used to speak a minimum of once a day a number usually multiplied exponentially on the flimsiest of excuses and every ten days or so have at least one three hour call during which marathon sessions my right ear in spite of periodic switches to my left - would end up feeling like raw steak but because she’d call me even more often than I’d call her I was often as confused as I was delighted by the two completely different people she seemed to be: one who loved me and wanted my love and one who hated me but needed my love.
Anyway by this stage it wasn’t just I wanted to quit on Sex it was also I really couldn’t see any other option - but just as I was about to start for home everything suddenly seemed to go pitch dark and for a moment I was utterly convinced a hitherto unsuspected brain tumour’d made me go blind…until much to my relief the 'darkness' became an extremely close range view of a patch of intense dark blue which immediately convinced me I was looking at the facade of a butchers for some reason. But the moment I was struck by the oddness of this association the mental 'camcorder' displaying the image abruptly yanked itself backwards and as if it’d originally started 'shooting' while lying on its left side simultaneously rotated itself ninety degrees rightward to the ‘vertical’ before rapidly flashing through a complex series of what I supposed to be the mind's eye's equivalent of refocusing its ‘lens’.
Anyway not knowing whether to laugh or cry but by way of reassuring myself and working out what the hell was going on I hurriedly cobbled together the quasi ‘explanation’ one of my videos‘d somehow taken on a life of its own and started running itself resulting in the terrific flurry of images I now identified as various views of trays of sliced cooked meats on display in a shop window - the only thing wrong with this explanation being since it was a shop I'd never seen before it couldn't’ve been shot by me and therefore couldn't’ve been one of my videos.
But as if this realization wasn't unnervingly confusing enough I now found myself becoming alarmed by the fact no matter how hard I tried I no longer had any control over which bits of the video I was able to view and was being in effect forced to direct my attention solely at less sharply defined peripheral details on the tape's leftmost edge (ie the part only visible to the left corner of my left eye at the time of ‘shooting’) where rather startlingly I thought I could just make out in a much narrower side window (on what I supposed to be the other side of the shop’s entrance) a number of books and yet surely that was wrong because who'd ever heard of or for that matter seen books in the window of a butchers?
Anyway fully recovered from my brain tumour fright and no longer worrying whether my underpants’d remained sufficiently clean to risk calling out to passers-by to call me an ambulance I began devising another more consciously tentative hypothesis.
Somehow for the first time ever TWO videos must’ve become overlain and mixed up with each other one of ’em clearly a butchers located in London Road (even though there weren’t any butchers in London Road!) and the other of a bookshop also supposedly in London Road yet the only thing even close to a bookshop there was this place I sometimes bought imported American comics from. But then again it wasn’t impossible I’d once blithely strode past some place down London Road which normally sold stuff which wouldn’t normally interest me but on just this one occasion some background part of my consciousness concerned with peripheral viewing’d been so startled to see books in this place’s window it’d made a record of the event in the hope it’d eventually come to my attention. Yet the only place which’d even remotely fit this profile’d be some kind of charity or thrift shop. But as far as I was concerned there’d never been anything remotely like that in London Road and I might add it was a route I frequently took on my way into the city. But then again it wasn't beyond the realms of possibility some place’d recently opened there which I’d somehow failed to notice.
Of course the only way to be certain was to walk through to London Road. But why even bother? Someone’d surely already bought it by now but even if they hadn’t a book like Bennett’s had to be fairly rare and thus fairly valuable and surely charities screened for such items in which case no way’d it be found on sale in a charity shop marked '10p'. Yet even if such a copy had somehow slipped such a safety net, there was no way it would've ended up in of all places that shop. But even if it had that only brought us straight back to someone surely having bought it by now. But even chucking all those considerations aside the simple truth was London Road was the other side of town. The temperature was getting icier. The rain heavier. My feet more and more bloodied and blistered. My sorely bamboozled and be-battered brain was screaming for painkillers. My aching heart and frostbitten ears throbbed for the sound of Sarah and my poor little mouth was all too effectively communicating its desperate need of a cup of tea via a highly convincing impression of the Sirocco sweeping through the Sahara Desert at noon.
And yet despite these and countless other perfectly good and rational reasons I kept giving myself I found myself trudging in the direction of the mythical butchers-cum-bookshop convinced of the complete absurdity of my behaviour all the time on the verge of a seething temper tantrum everytime I ‘accidentally’ drifted near a bus stop but instead of waiting for one immediately succumbed to this insane lemming-like compulsion to get to London Road.