It took me ages to find a background this tasteful.
This page is the result of two unfortunate, but undeniable, facts:
1. I have a website.
2. I have a girlfriend.
International law states that I am therefore contractually obliged to create a page on said website dedicated to said girlfriend, featuring tender and touching declarations of my love, and preferably filled with animated gifs of pulsing hearts and flowers.
Unfortunately Lisa's not the romantic type.
(And also the place where the nude revenge photos will appear when she dumps me).
The Gavin Smith Connection
Ah, Gavin Smith. What a man. With his aversion to capital letters and his dubious typing skills, Gavin entered my life on 25th November 2002. And stayed about 30 seconds. But like Cilla Black before him, he left in his wake a lasting legacy of love.
But enough about Gavin and Lisa, let's talk about me.
In 2001 I created the stonking website of musicality which is Hopes and Bodies. I'd owned a computer for a good ten months at this point, and felt I was more than qualified to put my vast knowledge of the internet to good use by creating a site about a band no one's ever heard of, and which no one will ever visit.
Unfortunately I had reckoned without some bird on the south coast. And I don't mean a seagull. More than 18 months after creating the site, a mysterious (and possibly drunk) figure wandered aimlessly into my guestbook and left this message...
Phil (Almighty Webmaster) Saturday, 12/7/02, 3:13 AM
Yeah Lisa, you tell him. Just who does this Mick think he is anyway?? He comes along here, refusing to express a preference - anyone would think he WROTE the songs. People like that make me sick.
From: Ipswich, God's Country
Favourite Senators song: Don't Mess Around With Me
The wings of the white hawk beat at my back,
As I walk down the hill, the familiar track,
Of a route schooled in silence, a college prepared,
Passing pillar to post, leaving wishes unaired.
I turn at the corner, the gala in sight,
Heading west, crossing Eastern in monochrome light,
I walk up to Bedford and over and on,
Passing shelters and waiters and catchers and dons.
I’m too early, I stop, and I head for the arms,
Of the Leconfield, drinking in dubious charms,
Then it’s onward with Edward, higher learning and yon,
Passing George toward James, with my back turned on John.
The saint of the unkempt town, age no concern,
As I look for the safe way to mind and to learn,
Then it’s back home to Dorset, the jury’s still out,
To the scene of our courting, of reasonable doubt.
I look up and ahead to the scalable wall,
And you’re there and I see you, my heart starts to call,
I’ve come such a long way, you’ve come further still,
But I know that I love you, and evermore will.
(This is an American formatted guestbook, so that date is the 18th of November, and the time is 8 hours behind. I mention this, because at 12:44pm on a Monday, Lisa would have been at work, and clearly wouldn't be surfing the net, idly looking at music sites on her employer's time. No, really).
Notice how she claims to have come across The Senators on a cable music channel, then later claims never to have seen them on TV. Clearly this is a woman with major honesty issues, and very little grip on reality. I decided to steer well clear of her.
Told you he was a happy chappie.
Well, for someone who can't resist a bad joke at the best of times, typing of that calibre is like a red rag to a bull. And Lisa duly charged back in five days later...
It's at this point that fate stepped in, in the form of singer, songwriter, and better-looking half of The Senators, Mick Kitson, who attempted to give Lisa's comedy routine a bit of a lift with this pithy punchline...
Naturally, as a dedicated and lifelong fan of the band, Lisa completely failed to recognise the name 'Mick', and decided to have a go at one of her musical heroes in public...
... at which point I decided it was time to intervene...
These were the first words I ever spoke (well, typed) to Lisa. I know, it IS touching.
The Nauseating Poetry Section
Enter Gavin Smith, Old Harrovian, would-be matchmaker, and certified happy chappie, who turned up a week later to say this...
(There's an American ice hockey team called the Ottawa Senators).
Less than eight hours later, and she was back...
I said yes. And then called a doctor.
Clearly this Lisa was not only a potty-mouth, but also a doubting Thomasina. But I remained calm, and patiently told her that I'd recognised his handwriting. Which went down well. Lisa has since told me that she only ever hung around my guestbook because I pissed her off so much. It's the ideal start to any relationship.
Lisa left a further two messages in my guestbook the following day - 10th December 2002 - but after I refused to be drawn into a protracted conversation about geography (and Tanita Tikaram), she left, and I heard nothing more from her for almost six months.
Ah... 2003. What a year. In the first few months, I created this website, considered getting into amateur dramatics, wrote Ledgers, and climbed the Brecon Beacons (in a car). Then, in the space of two months, four women entered my life. I know, you wait years for one and then four come along all at once. But whilst they may sound like buses, only one of them looked like the back end of one. And I'm not saying which. On 14th April I first met my chum Marie, on 5th June I went on a blind date with a girl who worked at Morrisons (the words "free bagels" spring to mind), and on 15th June I met my good pal Helen. But sandwiched insignificantly between this triumvirate of womanly stalkers, came the shortest of short e-mails from one Lisa in Brighton. It was sent late at night, on Friday 23rd May 2003, and it read...
... well actually I'm not sure, because naturally I deleted it. But here's an accurate reconstruction:
Lisa has since admitted that she was drunk at the time. So I owe a lot to that bottle of white wine. Without it, we may never have met. But I digress...
At first I wasn't sure who the e-mail was from, but with a barely contained shudder I remembered the dodgy woman from my website guestbook six months earlier, and put two and two together. Deducing that by "them", she meant The Senators, I wrote back and said...
"So... have you met them?"
But fortunately I didn't stop there. I also made a comment about social services (don't go there), which Lisa liked enough to e-mail me again on 30th May. To this day, it remains the only e-mail I've ever received which contains the following words:
Well that was all the encouragement I needed. Despite the fact that I already had a date lined up five days later with a woman who had access to bagels, I responded to Lisa on 1st June and told her the story of the time I went to Basingstoke and couldn't park. She responded by saying I should be a writer, I showed her my website, and she immediately declared herself "very perceptive and should get into recruitment". A line which I shamelessly stole and put into Act I of Be Worth It.
Lisa and I began e-mailing each other approximately once a week, a frequency which began to increase in September when I started writing said play and realised Lisa's e-mails were a good source of witty dialogue. The day cream incident mentioned in Act II was a real event from Lisa's life, although any similarity between the character of 'Lisa in Brighton', who appears in the same act, and my new friend Lisa, who happened to live in Brighton, is purely coincidental.
PS: I've never been to Basingstoke.
A year after Mick Kitson attempted to bring us together with a crude joke about mammalian mating habits, the other half of The Senators duly entered the fray. I received an e-mail on 6th November 2003 from Jim Kitson, older, wiser, and marginally taller brother of Mick. He said this:
I am in Ipswich at the moment appearing in Animal Farm so if you'd like to come and see it either tonight or Friday or Saturday leave me a message at the Wolsey Theatre box office and I'll try and get you a ticket.
The chance to meet one of my musical heroes in person! How exciting! And what's more, I knew just the girl to accompany me to such an event. A girl with a lifelong love of The Senators, who just six months earlier had posed the immortal question "So... have you met them?", and who herself harboured a burning desire to rub shoulders with obscure popstars. I e-mailed Lisa forthwith and invited her along.
She was just as excited as I was, and responded immediately...
... to say she had an important bonfire party to go to in Portslade.
Fortunately however, and in the tradition of all great love stories, this apparent let-down proved to be a turning point in our relationship. On 6th November I had boldly given Lisa my phone number, specifically to allow her to call me and say "Yes! Of course I'll come to see Animal Farm with you!". Three days later, on Sunday the 9th, perhaps as a result of (justifiable) guilt, perhaps excessive alcohol, but more likely in a transparent attempt to find out if I'd managed to get her Jim Kitson's autograph, Lisa called.
We began to speak two or three times a month, as proved by this reassuringly low phone bill...
This covers the three months from November 12th 2003 to February 11th 2004. Before you ask, the premium rate call wasn't a sex chat line, it was a vote for Peter Andre on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. (A sex chat line would have been less embarrassing). I made four calls to Lisa, averaging about 1hr 20mins each, with a total cost of less than seven pounds. All perfectly reasonable...
(Note: This is the first photo of Lisa ever to appear on the world wide web. Make the most of it - she's only one good lawyer away from having it removed.)
Now, whilst the timing of this gift may lead one to believe that Lisa's sole intention was to get in on the ground floor with a promising young (barely out of his twenties) playwright who'd just produced a masterpiece and was clearly going places, I personally believe that she'd planned to send me that photo all along.
Ultimately it didn't matter - Lisa clearly had a nephew with access to Pringles (and a matching fringe). It was all I needed to know. I increased the frequency of my phone calls as a matter of urgency, and ended up with this:
On 17th December 2003, I finished writing Be Worth It. On the 18th I sent a copy to Lisa. On the 21st she read it. And on the 22nd I received an envelope in the post. The envelope contained a Christmas card. And the Christmas card said...
"Dodgy photo. Have you got a shredder? (I'm the one on the left)."
I didn't have a shredder, so here it is...
Notice the distinct lack of international calls. Notice the complete absence of votes for sad reality shows. Notice the fifty quid spent on calls to Brighton. And ladies and gentlemen, I was out of the country for two weeks during this period.
Clearly something had to be done.
In March 2004, having returned from a two week fact-finding mission to Texas, and with the British Telecom bailiffs circling like sharks, I arranged to meet Lisa in London, on the grounds that buying a return ticket to Liverpool Street would work out significantly cheaper than paying my phone bill.
I had first proposed such a meeting back in November, but of course Lisa hadn't read 'Be Worth It' then, and I think she was hoping that if she put me off til the new year, it might give her time to obtain some kind of restraining order. Unfortunately for her, I wasn't so easily deterred. Despite sending me an e-mail on 19th February in which she swore like a trooper and then declared "I wuould eatg anything writ now", I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that whilst she clearly wasn't all there, she may not actually be dangerous, and meeting her might therefore be worth the risk. Though obviously I took out life insurance first.
On Tuesday, 23rd March 2004, Lisa and I met for the first time (evidence of which comes courtesy of this blog post), and I escorted her to London Zoo with the sole intention of poking aardvarks. Needless to say I was disappointed. By the aardvarks, that is. As for Lisa, well I decided not to follow my chum Marie's advice, which was to take her across wobbly bridges in high winds (for reasons far too complex to explain here), but despite that (or possibly because of that), we got on remarkably well. Though she clearly needed toddler reins to stop her going in the wrong direction at every available opportunity.
Anyhoo, the day was a success, and as it drew to a close, we found ourselves on the London Eye, watching the sun slowly set over our great nation's capital city. It was such a powerfully romantic scene that as the ferris wheel rose high into the evening sky, a spark of something very special was ignited, and we turned to face each other. The instant our eyes met, we were consumed by an all-conquering love. Powerless to resist, and with a passion burning deep inside of us, I took Lisa in my arms and we kissed, holding each other in an unbreakable embrace of pure love...
... well ok, we didn't. We'd only ever intended to meet as friends, so we actually just looked at the view, popped around the corner for pizza, then went home.
We hadn't actually hated each other so much that we couldn't spend time together. So exactly one month later, on Friday, April 23rd 2004, Lisa came to Shotley Gate for the weekend, and we went to the theatre.
Interestingly however, despite the fact that my career as a playwright was going up in smoke before her very eyes, Lisa stuck around. Though like I say, I had Frazzles and Chipsticks, so perhaps it's not that surprising. Whatever the reason, we headed off that evening as planned, to see Derren Brown at the Ipswich Regent...
... I still love her loads.
At the time of writing (February 2005), Lisa and I have been together for more than eight months. A year ago I'd never met her; two and a half years ago I'd never heard of her; now I could happily spend the rest of my life with her. But only because she's fire extinguisher trained, and can play the recorder. I never expected to find someone so completely right for me. Someone who could make me happy. Who could make me laugh so much. And who's capable of writing at least three blog posts a month.
And even though she thinks I look like this...
On 7th May 2004 I received a letter from The Royal Court, heartlessly rejecting 'Be Worth It' on the grounds that it was "conversational and unfocused". I rang to complain, but I started chatting on and forgot the point I was trying to make.
Lisa was no doubt shocked and stunned by the unexpected rejection of such a work of genius, but unfortunately for her, she'd already committed herself to a second trip to Shotley Gate just four days later, and by that point I'd bought in the Frazzles and Chipsticks, so there was no way she was getting out of it.
And besides, there was still the chance I'd make my fortune with the Soho Theatre.
On 11th May, Lisa arrived in Shotley Gate.
On 12th May, the Soho Theatre rejected 'Be Worth It'.
... after which something strange happened:
Lisa refused to leave.
I'd been due to return her to Brighton the following day, Thursday 13th May, but at 4:30pm, in the great tradition of ambitious, single-minded career girls, Lisa phoned up her work and told them she wouldn't be in the next day. Fortunately they didn't press her on why - I'm not sure they'd have accepted 'eating crisps in my pyjamas' as a valid reason for taking the day off.
As it was, we were free to enjoy an extra three days together, which we mostly spent fending off calls from Lisa's best friend who was convinced she was being held hostage against her will and was threatening to phone the police.
Note: The friend in question has since withdrawn that accusation and cooked me chile con carne.
Shocked to discover that she was capable of spending more than two straight days in my company without being driven to physical violence - a feat previously thought impossible - Lisa returned home on 16th May (she had to - her friend was planning to drive up to Shotley Gate to sort me out in person), and two weeks later, at 5am on Saturday, 29th May 2004, following a six-hour telephone conversation, the inevitable happened:
I fell asleep.
But just before that, Lisa and I officially became an item.
(Which is when the panic attacks started...)
On 20th January 2005, having been inspired by a fat American redneck on 'Wife Swap' the previous week, I sat down and wrote Lisa a love poem. I was motivated partly by a desire to express my innermost feelings through the medium of verse, partly to capture the pure emotion of true love, but mainly because Lisa said I had to.
So I knocked this out in an afternoon, and sent it to the Brighton Argus. They haven't printed it yet, but I expect that's just because it features the kind of raw emotion which brings a tear to the eye and makes your newspaper soggy.
But I won't be silenced that easily. So here it is...
Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Eh? What the bloody hell was that all about?"
Well fret not, you're in luck. Here's a brief translation:
To meet Lisa from work, I have to walk down Whitehawk Hill Road, passing a deaf school, a prep school, a pillar box and a lamp post. I then walk towards Gala Bingo and cross Eastern Road at the zebra crossing, before heading over Upper Bedford Street and passing bus shelters where people wait to catch buses to the university...
You're right, it is a masterpiece. Well, compared to what the fat American redneck came up with.
Anyhoo, I won't go any further, except to say that I do manage to crowbar in a reference to my two favourite charity shops - Age Concern and Mind. Which are next door to Safeway.
And to think the Brighton Argus are refusing to print this thing. It's an outrage.
There comes a point in every relationship when you realise that living 130 miles apart for the rest of your lives probably isn't going to work. So in the summer of 2005 I started saving every penny I could, in the hope of moving to Brighton to be with Lisa. Within a couple of months I'd saved enough for a phone call to an estate agent. At which point I discovered my chances of ever buying a flat were slim.
Fortunately my brother has more money than me (although let's face it, the average Lidl shopper has more money than me), and he was keen to expand his property portfolio with a bit of prime real estate on the south coast, so quicker than you could say "extortionate rent", we set about finding the perfect flat.
I think my favourite of the thirty or so flats we viewed in the winter of 2005 was the one in Palmeira Square which was too small to accommodate a double bed, and featured a strong smell of gas, a cooker ignition switch which was permanently trying to light, and an estate agent who urged us all to leave before we were killed.
Sadly my brother said no to that one, but on Thursday, 5th January 2006, shortly after having my tyres slashed on the Bristol Estate, my Mum and I viewed a flat in Kemp Town. As the scan on the right shows, not only did my mother have access to numerous pens, but we both liked the flat. Although Clare never did meet us at the office at 1pm. I think she'd gone to lunch.
Two days later, my brother drove down to Brighton to take a look for himself, and having recognised the flat's potential to make him rich, me poor and Lisa happy, he decided to put in an offer.
Just over a week later, on Monday 16th January 2006, the offer was accepted.
In mid-March the results of the survey were announced, revealing that aside from the damp problem in the bedroom, the asbestos in the bathroom, the dry rot next door and the power point in the kitchen which contravenes building regulations, the flat was in tip-top condition and ready for me to move in immediately.
The good thing about buying property in this country is that it takes so long you have plenty of time to pack. Delays to the love train meant I had just over six months to work out how to fit the contents of my two-bedroom maisonette in Shotley Gate into a one-bedroom shoebox in Brighton. But armed with nothing more than a ruthless streak and a lot of bin bags, I succeeded in my task, and on 1st July 2006 finally moved down to Brighton to live happily ever after with Lisa.
That didn't last long. Like a loved-up ostrich with his head in the sand of sentiment, I'd spent the first half of 2006 doing my best to ignore an increasingly obvious problem. A problem which was set to dominate the next year of our lives.
Not that there weren't highlights of course. For me there was this home-made cheesecake....
... while Lisa enjoyed the hot air balloon ride I bought for her birthday.
Ultimately though, our first year living in the same city didn't go quite according to plan. Despite writing over two dozen articles for their website, The Argus turned me down for a job not once but twice (possibly because they remembered the poem above), Cats Protection didn't want me writing their literature, and The SeaLife Centre refused to let me near their turtles.
But while I was busy wallpapering my flat with rejection letters, Lisa was facing a far greater challenge.
I think I first knew something was up when she started wearing badges like this one...
She wouldn't normally wear turquoise, so I knew it was serious.
My old pal Helen used to say that people who come into our lives do so for a reason: they come either to help us or to be helped by us. That must be why I'm always bumping into David Van Day. But as for Lisa, 2007 was probably the year she needed someone the most. So ignoring the possibility that I'd contributed to the whole thing by asking her out in the first place, I spent twelve months escorting her to AA meetings, watching daytime TV with her when she couldn't work, and telling her Mum not to worry. In the end though, there was only one person who could conquer the problem, and it wasn't me. Or her Mum.
Lisa has been in recovery since 7th October 2007.
Back in June 2006, four weeks before moving to Brighton, I'd bought a ring. Which just goes to show how firmly I believed the happily ever after bit. For eighteen months it sat in a drawer in my living room, hidden behind a packet of dusters and a sewing kit. It was the one place Lisa would never look.
And what's more, she said yes.
There were many times during those eighteen months when I doubted if that ring would ever see the light of day. There were, however, a few times I thought it might see the strip lighting of a branch of Cash Converters.
Fortunately though, I managed to keep the faith, and having watched Lisa move a few mountains of her own, that faith was duly rewarded in the autumn of 2007 with the return of the girl I'd fallen in love with. And I don't mean Sarah Greene in 1988.
By Christmas there was only one thing on my mind: engagement. Well, engagement and my new Nintendo DS. Frankly I was almost too busy playing Brain Training to ask Lisa to marry me. But on Christmas Day, in between battling my way to a brain age of 20, and doing a hundred sums in under two minutes, I managed to find time to propose.
I admit that spelling out the question in gingerbread isn't everyone's idea of a marriage proposal. To be honest, I'd intended to make mince pies, but the Co-op was right out of mincemeat. So at 7pm on Christmas Eve I'd started on a batch of gingerbread Santas. Only to find I didn't have a cookie-cutter.
Unable to make a gingerbread man, I therefore decided to make an
honest woman of Lisa, and having popped them in the oven, I popped
the question via the medium of biscuits. It had the advantage that if
she said no, I'd have something to console me. On the downside, I
had to resist eating them until Christmas Day.
But on 25th December 2007, at approximately 11am, I presented Lisa with the breakfast tray of love, pointed out the ring (she was too busy looking at the gingerbread) and asked her to marry me.
Our daughter, Amelie, was born at 6:54am on Thursday, 2nd October 2008, but the love story wasn't really complete until another Thursday, almost two years later.
We'd moved to a bigger flat in August 2010, so at the beginning of September we decided to make enquiries about getting married at Brighton Town Hall. The result was a phone call made by Lisa on the morning of Monday, 6th September, which was followed by the text message on the right, sent to me shortly afterwards. Three and a half weeks later, having told virtually no one, we were married, and the unlikely relationship which began eight years earlier with a simple posting on an obscure internet guestbook, was finally complete.