Paris

For many years my most enduring memory of Paris has been this, and I am glad to revisit it, unexpectedly, as I listen to the tape: I’d arrived at the Gare du Nord at about ten o’clock in the evening of Thursday 18th August, from London. In London, I had spent “a few hours” at home after returning – aflush, aglow and awonder – from Edinburgh, where the last play I’d seen was an adaptation of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. This had, once more, inspired me, and prompted me to wonder whether QED, an experimental piece of writing I’d recently conceived essentially as a monologue, “might have a chance in Edinburgh”, and I note on the tape, in a tone that today both amuses and amazes me, that “something at least as good if not quite a lot better can be done, actually.” The unencumberedness. The youth. The brazen confidence. The honesty. I now, listening to myself then, sense I can maybe today do a little what I never could then, although to others it must have looked and sounded and felt as though it came incredibly easy to me: indulge myself, just a little. Now, I feel a warmth to me then, a quarter of a century ago, at the beginning, setting out to what is to become me, and I chuckle. I was not a bad person. Perhaps a little deluded (maybe a lot), perhaps a little too sure of myself in some respects, but so very fragile in so many others. And yet, I survived…

I survived because of people like the good human I attach to this memory. Having arrived at the Gare du Nord at about ten in the evening, I knew I needed to find a train now to Grenoble. Grenoble was really my next stop on this ‘Europe Tour 1988’, and try as I might I could not find a train listed to Grenoble anywhere at the Gare du Nord. (It is telling to me now, but not in all seriousness all that surprising that I had not worked out a full itinerary. Taking a train to a European city and from there another train to another city in that same country, without planning or let alone booking a specific connection ahead, to my European mind was entirely reasonable then.) So I walked up to the information desk and in my dodgy French enquired after a train to Grenoble. The lady at the counter talked to me, not unfriendly, but quickly and made no sense at all. I wandered off and found some other person, possibly at another information desk or maybe just at the ticket office to start over again, and here I fared a little better because while I still was profoundly out of my depth with my inadequate French, I got the gist that in order to get to Grenoble I would first have to go to Lyon, and that while it was not possible at this time of night to catch a train all the way down to Grenoble I could still quite feasibly make it to the station in Lyon.

I must have already had a through ticket to Grenoble, because now, without further purchase, confused but a little relieved, I went searching for said train to Lyon and boarded one which looked plausible. It was pretty empty, but it was also pretty late and I’d done enough grappling with unforeseen complications to give this much thought. Also, I had spent the most part of the last 36 hours on trains and so I was maybe just a tad tired.

Then suddenly the hum of the air con ceased and the lights went off. Now fully awake and alert again, I jumped off the train only to see it pull out of the station – all dark, all empty – obviously depot bound. I was stuck, as far as I could tell, at Paris, Gare du Nord, for the night. Apparently I was not the only one though because a few other lost souls, or travellers in transit, were lounging about around shabby cases or, here and there, leaning against their backpacker rucksacks, and I felt laconic and unperturbed, as far as I can recall.

Come midnight or maybe around 1am they closed the station and those of us stranded there with nowhere to go were moved outside, and while some of them at this point dispersed (they probably never meant to travel anywhere and were just seeking shelter inside the station), a handful or so remained and I spent the night talking to a Parisian clochard and then sleeping a few feet next to him on the pavement outside the Gare du Nord. When I say ‘spent the night’, I mean really a few night time hours, because at 4:30 they opened the station again and those of us who had or thought we had trains to catch were let back inside. Now, what on the tape in my still a little self-conscious and just slightly off-the-mark English I refer to as “sufficiently tired” (having spent the second night in a row getting all of about two hours sleep) I walk up to the ticket office as soon as it opens and make my third attempt at trying to find out how to get to Grenoble from Paris.

I finally find out that in order to get to Grenoble from Paris I first have to go to the Gare de Lyon. Not the Gare de Lyon in Lyon, where you would expect it, but the Gare de Lyon in Paris. Suddenly a lot of bizarre and circuitous conversation the night before begins to make sense: they were talking about the railway station in Paris called Lyon, and I was understanding the railway station of Lyon. To get to the Gare de Lyon in Paris, I’m informed, I can take either the métro or a banlieu train. And so after asking a few more people I find myself in front of this gigantic ticket machine that looks to me like the unsolvable puzzle. By this time I can barely keep my eyes open and even if I do: I’ve taken out my contact lenses for the few hours rest on the pavement outside and my glasses are somewhere at the bottom of my bag, and I stand there like Ali Baba having forgotten the magical phrase for Sesame, when a chap pitches up, charming and bright eyed and asks me if I’m lost. ‘Not really…’ I say, which now strikes me as disingenuous, and I tell him I just need to get to the Gare de Lyon. He asks me if I’m from London. ‘Yes’, I say, and give him a weary smile. He tells me that a friend of his had been to London for three days and keys in the correct sequence. I’m trying to process if that was just recently that his friend had been to London for three days, or once in his lifetime, and what the further significance of it may be, but the price flashes up on the machine and it now dawns on me that I haven’t got any francs yet. But before I can really explain, he throws in some coins and hands me the ticket and wishes me good luck. I barely manage a ‘thank you’ before he is gone, vanished into the early commuter throng of Parisians.

I have never forgotten this man and his random act of kindness. He changed not only the way I thought about ‘the people of Paris’ (they’d had a fearsome reputation), but completely opened my eyes to what a small deed could do; and because I was so grateful and so touched and so genuinely helped out by what he had done for me, I often and in many situations have tried to emulate his disposition towards me and pass on the love. And I still do, coming up three decades later. And so if anything I ever was able to do for a ‘stranger’ has had even a fraction of the impact he had on me, then this young man – with a smile, two minutes of his time and what must have amounted to about three or four francs of his money – has made the world a much, much better place. Merci, mon ami. Tu es toujours dans mon âme…

Edinburgh

I like Edinburgh. I like it now, I liked it then. I love it now, I loved it then. With one or two reservations, for which Edinburgh is not to blame, nor its good people. It’s so far north, it gets undeniably miserable in winter. And dark. The upside of this is that in summer the days are long and, with its situation by the sea, the light and the air and the atmosphere are tonic.

On the tape, I call it “a wonderful city,” “beautiful” and “absolutely stunning.” I also tell my future self that, having queued up at the Fringe Box Office for an hour, and seen people advertise their shows there, “I feel very strongly that next year I will not be here as a member of the audience, but as a participant on some level or other.”

My slow delivery and often elaborate choice of words notwithstanding – I really seem to search a lot for the exact right way to express myself, and only succeed maybe seventy, seventy-five percent of the time – I am obviously excited to be there and to have discovered “the place to be” for interesting theatre. I never think of the theatre I had either already done, with students in Switzerland, or that I was about to do, in London and Edinburgh with professional actors, as ‘avant-garde’, but with hindsight it’s also clear that much of it probably was. The theatrical establishment’s reluctance or inability to ‘get’ me as a theatre writer has always baffled me, because nothing I’ve ever written has ever seemed so ‘out there’ to me that it could not be both understood and also – if you relish language and appreciate thought as much as emotion, delight in playfulness for its own sake as easily as losing yourself in a story – enjoyed. Then I read a sentence like the one I’ve just written, just now, and I think: maybe I do understand why so many people don’t seem to get me…

It occurs to me now, and only really now, that with all the wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm that I started out with, I propelled myself onto a trajectory that is exactly not what then I thought it was going to be. What I remember thinking it was going to be at the time – even though from today’s perspective that makes no sense at all – was that I would be heard and seen, ultimately, by everybody, by the general public: I simply assumed that people would, by and by over time, but relatively quickly, become aware of my work, and embrace it. Like it, if you like. And what I find most fascinating now is not that that hasn’t happened, that instead some people have absolutely loved my plays, but others have as absolutely hated them, that not a single one of the new writing theatres (whose brief it is to put on new writing, after all…) has ever put on one of my plays, even though several of them have taken pains to profess how ‘impressed’ they were with what I’d sent them to read; no, what I find most fascinating now is that in spite of all that, and after three decades, I still write work that to me seems entirely ‘reasonable’, that is perhaps individual, but that certainly does not set out to baffle, and it still baffles people. They still think it’s too risky, too unconventional. Today, this very week, I still have a theatre director tell me that something that to me is an obviously bold, and maybe a bit challenging, but therefore also exciting, stroke of theatre ‘cannot be done’, not because it is ‘bad’ or ‘badly written’ – they always, always point out how ‘good’ the writing supposedly is – but because it does not sit within the convention, within the narrow confines of what traditional practitioners still seem to expect their audiences to accept.

I don’t know this at the time I’m recording my voice diary in August 1988, aged twenty-four, still only three years into living in London, but I’m about to embark on a choppy voyage that will on many occasions have me nearly keel over, that will have some people so incensed that they will attempt to sink me, that will cause me to get wet a lot, but that, yes, will also bring me to some who will get something out of it too, who will accompany me for short while and see a sight or discover a place that they would not otherwise have got to, and find value in that. Then again, the tone had maybe already been set, long before, when we did Sentimental Breakdown… while I was still at school in Switzerland. One, very conservative, local newspaper had said in its review of the piece, “if it proves anything it is that today’s youth has nothing to say.” Another, far more liberal paper gave it a really positive write up. And it’s been the same more or less ever since. Which is why, today, I no longer read ‘the reviews’, they are, after all, just opinions…

Then, in August 1988, aged twenty-four, I tell my future self that Edinburgh is “the place to do something; lively, open very free, the platform for modern new theatre; and that’s me saying this before I have even seen anything.” I’m about to see quite a bit: I spend a couple of days at the festival sleeping little – “it’s 34 hours since I’ve been to bed last, and it’s starting to show very slowly” – smoking too much and seeing seven shows. One of these leaves me cold, others I’m quite impressed by, one has me “physically shaking” it’s such an “amazing piece of work.” I take the opportunity to talk to performers and directors, and to some of the people running the venues to “get some insider views.” I see a comedy show which amuses me but I also tartly remark that “the unfortunate thing is they trap themselves a little; they are very witty, because they parody the Eurovision Song Contest, but their serious songs fall into a category fairly close to the kind they’re making jokes about…” but overall I am inspired, encouraged:

“I love Edinburgh,” I say in my last entry recorded there. “It is full of beautiful places, full of stunning views; if Edinburgh [were] blessed enough to find itself located a few degrees further down towards the south it would [be] one of the most vibrant and fantastic places to possibly even reside,” I venture, using the word ‘reside’ without, I believe, much irony; although I have doubts that Edinburgh would have the atmosphere and cosmopolitan feel outside the festival, and “it’s just simply too cold, there’s no doubt about that; it feels like April, which is all right for three or four weeks to do some work here, but to live here must be hell, it’s so depressing; but funnily enough it doesn’t seem to affect the people at all, they are nice and friendly.”

And thus, even with the cold weather, I am “so invigorated by the people, by what’s going on here, by the shows, I could,” I say, “go on for a lot longer,” but tomorrow I have to check out by 1:30pm, after which I will “then see another three shows at least, and take the 11:14 train from Edinburgh to London, and that will be my festival experience.” And even though I still have nearly a third of that experience ahead of me, I’m already able to conclude:

“Only just a couple of months ago, Edinburgh was this colossus of fantastically gifted, possibly famous, experienced, thoroughly professional beings who gathered together excelling in what they do… – but it’s an open space, it’s a platform, it’s a forum, it’s a festival, it’s a place where things can be done.” I seem to be under no illusion: “The fact that people put in vast amounts of work for what in material terms is no return whatsoever: that creates an environment which to me appears very fruitful.” And so the resolution: “If it’s the last thing I do, and if it costs me a vast amount of money, I still want to take a show up here.”

Thus, I record my own personal manifesto for the following year: “It is now high time, very necessary, very appropriate also, to proceed and do the experiment, see how it works, risk failure, risk loss, risk whatever is involved; and I shall be spending the next twelve months preparing for this experiment and will put it to the test.” And that is, of course, exactly what I then do.

Divestment

I find a cassette tape, unlabelled. I’m in the process of divesting myself of accumulated clutter that has started to clog up my life, in preparation for a renovation of my flat, and most of the tapes are being at long last thrown out now. Some – those bought as cassette albums and undamaged – go to the charity shop, practically all the others, with the exception only really of some mixtapes, go in the bin: I hold on to less than half a dozen, which is me being ruthless. I reckon.

The unlabelled tape nearly lands in the bin liner unexamined, but it intrigues me as there are almost no tapes that don’t have anything written on them at all, even if on some of them the writing has long faded and become illegible. I take it out of its case and put it in the machine I still have. I hear a young voice with a not particularly strong but clearly discernible accent, a little measured, a little studied, a little over-enunciated, say: “All right, here we go: Europe Tour 1988, The Spoken Diary.” I’m listening to myself, nearly thirty years ago. And I hear myself say: “This is my first experience of this kind as well, so we just have to try it out.” My language has not yet acquired any idiom, and Germanisms linger, sometimes prevail.

“Nothing of what’s going to be said is going to be edited in any way, I promise myself that, so that when I’ll be listening to it in two or three or five years, ten years, I’ll feel genuinely embarrassed.” Not embarrassed, my friend, so much as astounded. I sound to me like any young man from the past. I recognise myself, but in the way that I would recognise a friend from that time, someone I knew, a little. Not someone I knew well, let alone someone I was.

I don’t remember the process of recording this, but I do recall having made the tape. The memory is curious, brittle, alien.

The ‘Europe Tour’, it transpires, will have taken me from Edinburgh, where the diary starts on Monday 14th August (which I pronounce Oggust, and that does embarrass me now, slightly, though it also endears me to me) at 2:15 in the afternoon, a time by which I declare, with a hint of pride lacing my tone, that I haven’t slept in about twenty-four hours. I’ve had a “very pleasant conversation” with two Americans on the train and upon arrival availed myself of the services of the Tourist Information office, who have booked me into this “guest house”. When I say “guest house” I sound bemused. Having settled into my room, which, apparently, has high ceilings and is also “pleasant”, I’ve been out and bought myself tickets to three shows, starting at 4:15.

“I’ve just eaten this strange, slobbery pizza, which was incredibly cheap though,” I note, and “people here have time and they let you know they do, which can be charming as well.” I describe with awe the light of the city, pulling out of King’s Cross Station at six thirty this morning, and describe Edinburgh as “wonderful” and unlike anything I’d seen before, but I also note that the drawback of this place is the weather: I’d already spotted someone wearing a fur coat at the height of summer, though I make no reference to ‘nae nickers’ so perhaps I’m not yet aware of the expression.

“I seem to be sounding a bit blasé, hearing myself over the headphones, but I’ll have to get used to that, I presume.” And no joking. I sound to me now like a young arrival’s idea of a latter day Noel Coward, and then it hits me: I still own the silver cigarette case I used to use at that time!

I resolve to listen to myself speak to me from the past, as there’s a fair chance now, I sense, that this might get me to know me better…

18a Alignment

Here is how the universe aligned itself for it to happen that my young science communicator friend and I could have a wonderful night, with Morcheeba:

I had every intention of going to the Highlands for a few days in the last week of November, firstly because I love the Highlands and like to go there sometimes in the autumn when there are not many people about and there’s a good chance of rain and the walks are solitary and long, but also, secondly, I had an offer of a free first class ticket from East Coast Rail from King’s Cross to Edinburgh, which was about to expire in early December: a gift of ‘goodwill’ from the train operator by way of compensation for some long service delays the year before. I was pretty much sold on the idea of doing this because I craved the craggy hillsides and I thought on the way back I could drop in on Torben in Berwick-upon-Tweed and go for one or two more walks with him before Christmas, and for once I was not strapped for cash. So, so far so good.

The First Thing that went wrong as in right as in different to all expectations and most precedent was that Torben was going to be ‘on duty’ that particular weekend, the last weekend in November, because his wife was going to take herself off somewhere with the oldest, leaving him home alone with the two smaller children. This put a clanking big spanner into all kinds of works, since it meant that far from being able to go on extensive country walks followed by many pints in the pub, we would have to spend time mainly at home, looking after said children. Now, they are lovely children, but that was not what I’d had in mind.

The Second Thing that offered itself up as a variation on the plan was that a dinner that had been suggested a while ago by the Swiss Ambassador and his Wife for a small group of people including me was now scheduled for Thursday 27th and although I had very mixed feelings about the circumstances in which this invitation came about – for reasons that would probably be a breach of confidence for me to enter into in anything resembling detail – I actually rather liked the Ambassador and his Wife and thought that it would be churlish or at the very least bad manners to miss their dinner, in the absence of any good reason not to do so (other than my lingering unease about what had precipitated the dinner in the first place, of which more I shall not divulge). My enthusiasm for the prospect of spending the end of a Highland week at Torben’s already dampened I now also had almost a good reason to stay in London that week and attend this dinner, signalling to the Ambassador and his Wife ‘no hard feelings’, and so all was, comparatively speaking, well…

Now newly in a position of having this whole week mostly to myself in London, I started filling in some other nights of my diary. Except not the way they turned out at all. The Third Thing that happened was that I was having coffee with Tom at the Troubadour. There was no reason or purpose to this, he just happened to be in London with a break near the end of his tour and suggested we go for coffee, which I, being a creature of habit and feeling at home at the Troubadour, in turn suggested we do there. At some point Anders, the lovely lanky waiter of Scandinavian origin whom I have never not had a bit of a soft spot for (but then I tend to have a bit of a soft spot for waiters generally, especially tall ones), came over and handed me a blank envelope. This had never happened before. It was, he said, an invitation to a private view of a local artist’s, Melinda, who had asked him to give some of these to some Troubadour regulars, of which clearly I’m one. Pleased and a little flattered, I thanked him, slid the envelope in my pocket and proceeded to more or less forget about it in an instant. When I got home after saying goodbye to Tom, I found the envelope in my jacket and put it with my unopened mail there to forget about it for a second time.

Around about that time, on the 18th November, to be precise, so actually a couple of days before having coffee with Tom, I was trying to organise a night out with Diego, who is not only adorable as well as Italian, but also fairly difficult to pin down socially, because while he’s extremely loyal and helpful, he’s also unfeasibly busy. It’s a typically ‘London’ challenge, this, which we’re all used to. I proposed two films to him (as an alternative to the theatre, simply because he hadn’t yet responded to my other suggestion, which had been Electra at the Old Vic) and while he was keen to see the film on Turing, he had already arranged to see Interstellar with some other friends. Reasoning that as an Italian he wouldn’t mind, I boldly invited myself along, asking him specifics about the date and time he had booked, which turned out to be Friday night 28th at seven forty-five. I went online straight away and found one of very few seats – mainly singletons left out to the side and very front or extreme rear of the IMAX auditorium – and booked it, triumphantly announcing to Diego that I was going to crash his night out at the cinema.

Also on the 18th November, I start chatting to this man on Grindr. He describes himself as ‘masculine looking for the same, but love a good chat regardless’ and looks like a handsome, slightly rugged early thirty-something to me. He is on his way home, past my house, it appears, after a failed encounter with a ‘weird’ Italian – no connection to my Italian friend, I hasten to add – who has spooked him a bit, and while we’re online he reaches his flat, which happens to be eight doors precisely removed from mine, on the same side of the street. We chat a while longer, find out that we share several interests and are both night owls, until I finally sign off, as I’m beginning to fall off my perch, some time after three in the morning. The next day we chat again, briefly, then we skip a day and then over the next two days (we’re now up to the 22nd November) we again have just a few brief exchanges on Grindr, except I tell him that I had entered his name in the search field on Facebook and the first person to come up was him. I offer to send him a friend request, which he suggests I do, and we banter a bit about possibly finding out too much about each other and the joys of online stalking. So from the 22nd November he and I are friends on Facebook. This is the Saturday of the weekend before the week I was going to go to Scotland, but now won’t be. Nothing else noteworthy happens over the weekend.

On Monday 24th, and we’re now into the week in question, JayJay, more or less out of the blue, and also perhaps a tad surprisingly since we had only just seen each other a couple of times in a row when often we go without catching up for months, suggests I join him and some friends at a tiny North London fringe theatre to see a piece either by or adapted from Gogol. I have no pronounced interest in either the piece or the theatre, but I’ll go and see anything more or less any time and I am again pleased and a little flattered to have been asked and so of course I say yes. The night at the theatre is Wednesday, which tangentially reminds me that I have an invitation also to a private viewing at the Troubadour on that evening, but naturally JayJay and the theatre take precedent over a local artist whom I don’t know, and so I say yes to JayJay and prepare to forget about the invitation I received through Anders for a third time.

On Tuesday all is quiet and nothing unusual occurs.

Then, on Wednesday 26th the Fourth Thing flicks a new switch, retroactively: my friend David reposts an item of his girlfriend Alex’s on Facebook, in which she offers two tickets to see Morcheeba on Friday. The reason the tickets have become available is that she had bought them mistaking the date of the gig for the previous Friday, so she had rolled up at the venue then, only to be told that she was a week early. This coming Friday she can’t do. (Whether she was going to see Morcheeba with my friend David or somebody else, I don’t know.) I respond to David’s forwarded post, saying that I have use for one ticket, so if any of his other friends also has use for one then we could have ourselves a night out with Morcheeba “tomorrow”. This is a slip of the mind, as the tickets are actually for the day after tomorrow, but I don’t notice that. I do, however, look up my diary correctly for Friday, because in the diary for Thursday is the Ambassador and his Wife’s Dinner, and on Friday there is nothing.

This is the Fifth Thing, and it’s decidedly odd: I have three Apple devices, which are all using the latest, up-to-date operating systems and which ordinarily synch all my diary entries across devices via iCloud, so I pretty much trust my diary. Since my diary is free then, I think I can go and see Morcheeba on Friday – the fact that I talk in my reply to David’s forwarded post about “tomorrow”, when tomorrow would be Thursday, turns out to be a red herring. But my diary isn’t free on Friday. As I’m only to realise later, I have a cinema ticket booked, crashing Diego’s party on Friday. But this doesn’t show on the laptop I’m using. Later I am to find out that the diary entry exists, perfectly accurate, on my other laptop. When I notice this and run several tests to see whether my diary isn’t synching properly, I find that no such problem exists, my diary synchs wonderfully, within seconds; and if a device happens to be offline (I test this too) the entry gets pushed through at the earliest possible moment, no problem. So why, of all my diary entries, this particular one did not feature on my laptop at this time, is and remains an unsolved mystery.

Almost at exactly the same time, the Sixth Thing that happens is that JayJay texts me to say that he’s feeling poorly and won’t be making it to the theatre tonight. I read this as a cancellation of the outing as a whole, since I don’t know his colleagues or friends and had made no other arrangements and left it to JayJay to book the tickets. So I think: no worries, I will go to this art viewing instead. Also at the same time approximately, my new friend originally from Grindr gets in touch again for the first time since the weekend, this time on Facebook, where he says: “so we’re facebook friends now.” Having previously mentioned the Troubadour and the possibility of a coffee there in our earlier chats on Grindr, I take the opportunity, offered by the Sixth Thing, to tell him that I’ll be heading down there later today and that there’ll be free vodka cocktails, a fact which Anders had alerted me to from the start, and which had stuck in my mind as a particularly attractive incentive, because how can you say no to a vodka cocktail when it’s on offer. To my absolute delight, my new friend says he could do with a free drink and agrees to come down and see me there, exactly as I’d hoped, because that would give us a chance to meet really informally in a relaxed setting and it would only have to last half an hour if it didn’t go well. He had promised his flatmates he would cook some chicken soup for them beforehand, so we agreed to meet down there at seven, which gave me a chance to also have some chicken soup beforehand, though I didn’t make mine from scratch, I poured mine out of a Waitrose tub.

The art is decorative and nice with quite a bit of character, and as I’m there before my friend, I chat a short while to the artist, who thinks she knows me, but when I tell her that we don’t know each other, though she may have seen me at the Troubadour, she seems to lose interest and becomes almost a bit weary, though not impolite, even though I also tell her, of course, that I had been invited by Anders. The vodka cocktails are Seabreezes, generously poured by Hugo (I think, I’m never entirely sure his name is Hugo), and I find two elderly local ladies and friends of the artist to chat to while holding out for my friend who’s since messaged to say he’s running a tad late. By half past I tell him that I’m more or less done with the art now, but he says he’s just on his way, so I take advantage of my two elderly ladies hanging around near the entrance talking to an attractive and artistic looking woman whom I estimate to be around halfway between my age and theirs and I effectively crash their conversation which leads to me and the very attractive and somewhat artistic woman talking to each other; me facing the open door. My friend bounds up the stairs and I recognise him immediately from his picture and we greet each other like we’ve always known each other, which in a way I feel we have. I introduce him to the attractive woman, whose name I can’t now remember though it may have been Yvonne, and he, realising that I’m mid-conversation and he’s very late, proposes to find himself a drink; I ask him to bring me one too. I continue talking to ‘Yvonne’ until she reckons it’s time to look in on her sixteen year old at home, and since my friend has not got back yet with or without drinks, I go find him. I am massively pleased to find him talking to another random gallery-goer, though for reasons that don’t strike me as obvious but not important enough to enquire about either, he hasn’t got me a drink, he’s only picked one up for himself, so I get me my second one too and I join them. For the second time, I feel like I’m here with him, who else: although we only now really speak our first few sentences to each other, we may, for the level of ‘strangeness’ I feel, as well have been together for years. And I put here ‘together’, though we’re not even friends yet and we may never, in that sense, or any other, be ‘together’. That is also a little strange but not entirely unpleasant.

The woman he has been talking to eventually makes her way off too and we’re finally left to talk to each other, which doesn’t change anything; we have one more drink each and although I feel tempted to eek out another, he is attuned to the fact that the place is emptying out and suggests we make our way home as well. As we get to his front door, we embrace and nearly give each other a peck on the cheek but not quite, and I go home thinking, well that was just entirely perfect.

I’m home shortly after nine, where I find David has replied to my post in response to his post on Facebook: “You must have a friend seb or just crack a grinder one out! Haha.” Now, as I’m about to explain to my brand new friend in a new message on Facebook, I’ve never been one not to “take a random gag as a proper suggestion,” and so I offer the Morcheeba night out to him. It’s a long shot in every sense: it’s just two days’ notice, we’ve only ever had a couple of drinks together and it’s Morcheeba, who create a wonderful sound but who are something of a throwback to the Nineties. But once again he surprises me in the best possible way and he says, yes, he loves Morcheeba, he’s up for it. I tell David, he promises he’ll email the tickets. Everything hunky, except…

Next morning I have a mildly suspicious feeling that I may have messed up a bit. I check my diary and that’s when I find out about the synching issue. I resolve, of course, to stick with the new arrangement and blow out Diego, simply because he’s already got somebody to be going to the cinema with and I can see that film any time.

In the evening, I go to the dinner the Ambassador and his Wife are hosting at their residence, and it is very civil, even friendly. Of the small group who had been invited, two or three have obviously decided they were busy elsewhere, so it feels even more private than it would have done if everyone had attended. As the evening draws to its close, the Ambassador’s Wife again thanks us all for all we have done for the Swiss Embassy over the last few years and hands us each a bottle of champagne.

Friday comes, and there’s a Seventh Thing. Having effectively written off my booked ticket for Interstellar at the BFI IMAX, I do feel it’s a shame that that should just go to waste, especially as it’s a sold out screening. So I look up my email confirmation, on which of course it says no refunds and no ticket exchange, but I phone up the cinema anyway and say to the nice man who answers the phone, I realise this is not your policy but seeing that you have a full house I wonder is there any chance you can resell my ticket. Without dropping a beat he says: “You can’t make it tonight?” I confirm, no, I can’t. “I’ll refund your ticket for you straight away, would that help you enormously?” – “Yes, that would help me enormously, thanks!”

I’m wondering is it a coincidence or have I manipulated my memory or is it just the beauty of the universe that it has aligned Seven Things so my new friend, who I’m about to learn is a science communicator, and I could have a wonderful time with Morcheeba. After the gig we go for another drink and after that we pass my door now and I don’t even have to really ask, we both just go up together and because it was partly the Ambassador’s Wife who was to blame for the fact that I didn’t go up to Scotland, I crack open the bottle of fizz she gave me at the dinner the night before. It tastes all the more lovely for everything that has brought us to this moment right now.