Sunday night, Derbyshire.
K, getting into bed: I don’t think I like the tone of your latest Twitter.
Mike: What, because you were away for most of it? But darling, your return was the shattering climax to the whole weekend! The cherry on top of the cake!
K: God, you’re good at thinking on your feet…
Mike: That’s not fair! I thought it up five minutes ago, doing my teeth. I knew you’d sneak a peek on your way up…
Friday evening, Nottingham.
With K away at a Vet Fest in Brum, the city’s nightlife is mine for the plucking. Why, I could go anywhere.
So, the Lord Roberts then.
I’m trying out my new(ish) vari-focal contact lenses again, for the first time in several weeks, because I’ll be damned if anyone’s going to see me in a gay pub on a Friday night with specs on. I don’t like this slow drift towards becoming a full time specs wearer, even though these are the best pair of specs I’ve ever owned. Not that I have any aesthetic objection towards full-time specs wearers per se – reader, I married one – but unlike my fragrant Civil Partner, my specs are not a fundamental part of who I am. Quite the reverse, in fact. And in any case, I’d quite like to be in with a theoretical chance of being cruised. Even if only for a split second: ooh he’s nice, whoops, bit older than I thought. Yes, that would do me for the evening. Simple needs. Unchained from that particular lunatic a good few years ago. (*)
Trouble is, these lenses have half-blinded me. The gas lamps in The Park were the trippiest; great whooshing coronas flickering all around, like rushing on a pill, sans the anxiety attacks. In the pub, I can barely see JP’s mouth across the table. He’s a fast talker, and I’m struggling with ambient noise, and my ears must be due a sluicing anyway. I didn’t realise how much I’d been relying on lip-reading. Half-blind, half-deaf, and for all I know I could be the Hottest Stud in the pub, except how would I know a thing like that in my condition?
I settle for being the Enigmatic Stud in the corner who never returns glances.
Not that I’m in the right place for that kind of caper. As a gay venue, the Lord Roberts has possibly the most de-sexualised atmosphere of any bar I’ve ever visited, in over 25 years of Outness and Proudness (excepting maybe the Retro Bar in London). That’s a large part of why I like it here. You can come down with your mates, get a decent pint of bitter (I know!), grab a table and settle down for an extended natter, and all without any of that ghastly business whereby everyone keeps glancing distractedly over your shoulder while you’re talking to them. Soft lighting, comfy chairs, traditional theatre-pub decor, no belting club music, no selfish superficial arseholes… how many other British cities are blessed with a gay venue like this one? We take it for granted, but we’re lucky to have it.
Friday night/Saturday morning, Nottingham.
(*) Believe that, and you’ll believe anything. Dot. Dot. Dot.
Saturday afternoon, Derbyshire.
This is the first time I’ve ever taken a taxi from Derby station to the cottage, and on this hot, sunny, glorious day, I’m enjoying the raised view that the Hackney carriage seating affords, adding extra detail to the familiar journey. As the bulky vehicle pushes further into the countryside, leaving its familiar city-suburb-city routes ever further behind, and looking ever more incongruous with its surroundings, so my awareness of jumping between two worlds is similarly heightened.
Past Kedleston: hotel, golf club, National Trust hall, and that fine old red brick wall which even now refuses to yield what lies inside. Through the bland commuter village of Weston Underwood; through Mugginton – Lane End, with its perplexing, mildly irksome free-floating hyphen and its closed-for-refurb pub with the Oo-er Missus name; left at Hulland Ward, gateway to the Peak park; right towards the ersatz Countryside Leisure Experience that is the Carsington Water reservoir (a useful trap for the Derby day-trippers, plodding dutifully in their hundreds along its featureless banks); a wiggle and a twist, and aah, here’s where we start, on the approach to Bradbourne, as the landscape closes in around us on the narrowing lane with its treacherous bends, and the green becomes greener, and the hills steeper, and the valleys deeper, and the blossom whiter, and the lambs friskier (mmm, locally sourced shanks from the White Peak butcher!), and here’s the church where Alan Bates is buried, and it’s not far to go now as the road descends and the home valley opens up ahead, offering the first faint glimpses of the village, and is the cab driver enjoying this as much as I am, thirty minutes outside the city, not a clue where he is, but what a perfect afternoon for a mystery tour, and here we are at last, thirty quid and five for your trouble, you’re best off heading back towards the A515 and straight through Ashbourne, ah you know it from there do you, good stuff…
…and the garden looks a picture. Best year yet. We’re beginning to know what we’re doing at last, we started preparing in good time, and as it enters its fourth year, the planting is coming to maturity. The mulch is down; the roses are pruned, trained and sprayed; the bare patches on the corners of the lawns are filling in; the hardy geraniums are creeping through the circular grid supports; the smaller daffs are still in full bloom; the first of the tulips are popping out; the hot reds, dusty purples and dusky pinks dotted down one side are melding together and making sense; and for now, there’s nothing to do except pull out a chair and relax, letting it all get on with the simple process of growing.
So glad I came. Even as recently as a year ago, I wouldn’t have bothered, seizing my chance for two nights on the razz in preference to all of this wonder and delight. Our pride and our joy, truly.
Tune out, switch off, settle down.
I don’t even bother rigging up the laptop.