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Gilbert, and the surprise.

I've got two fabulous children, who'll be 16 & 18 by the time I finish writing this.  Or 20 & 22, if current blog rate continues.  And I had a fabulous relationship with their mother, for at least 10 of the years we were together.  The other 10 were a slow car crash, obviously, accompanied by a life that was the very definition of "staying together for the sake of the kids".  Right up until the moment she told me she didn't want to stay together for the sake of the kids.  Which was a combination of both surprise and relief, although the former outweighed the latter for a while. Because details.

Several years of hindsight, notwithstanding the oceans of tears, hideously embarrassing displays of public anguish, and final realisation that maybe some therapy might allow me to knit together a few themes and help me to process why I've subsequently been so self-destructive; have begun to leave me in a pretty good place; culminating in a miraculously rescued relationship with a woman with whom I would love to spend the rest of my life, and, if anything, finding me even closer than before to my offspring, despite them not living with me all the time.  It's all broadly good.  And my children play no part in this, they're just a scene-setter. Which is about as far removed from their actual role in my life as could be imagined.

But now is the time to spill the beans.  To tell you about Gilbert.  My ex-partner's best friend's husband.

It wasn't for me to reveal anything while we were together.  It wasn't my business.  There was no mileage to be gained and loads to be lost, along with plenty of earth-shattering unhappiness if the story got out.  So I'm relying on the anonymity this account gives me.  Be kind.

Sally, the mother of my children, had known Selina since they were toddlers.  And Selina had met Gilbert a few months before I met Sally.  So when it was clear Sally and I were an item. Selina and Gilbert came for an evening at her South London flatshare.  Loved up and couply.  We met, bonded, ate, drank, smoked copious amounts of marijuana, and played board games.  It was the 90's.  There was no internet.  Not even dial up.  So please don't mock.  Board games can be fun, unless you're playing with my dad, in whose case archaeologists will still be finding angrily distributed Risk pieces well into the next Millenium.

All of a sudden, I had a new friend.

Not a mate like my Uni mates.  Or my friends from bartending, DJing, working in a proper grown-up job, or anywhere else.  This was my lover's best mate's lover.  And we got on like a house on fire. Music, beer, and genteel debauchery were a pleasant theme.  What could possibly go wrong?

Actually, nothing did.  For a dozen years and more, through the births of children, house moves, parental illness and general realisation that this was REAL LIFE, we were the firmest friends ever.  Better still, so were our kids.  We holidayed, met in far-flung corners of the world, skinny dipped, bonded with each other's social circles, and were as close as friends can be. Glastonbury, Womad, Le Mans, Latitude, Bestival and multiple others were all dispatched with aplomb, with and without young children in tow.  Gilbert and I hosted countless weekends with the kids while the girls got away together, and reciprocally we managed similar numbers of long "Boys'" weekends away, often while sharing a tent tinier than the alleged "King-Sized" bed shamefully allotted by my hotel last weekend, which was actually narrower than Liam Fox's world view.

And then they moved to the other side of the world.

There's some stories here too.  Not least the devastation of losing one's closest friends as a couple, and the recalibration of a life without them.  By this time there was internet, and FaceTime, so catching up was possible, timezones notwithstanding, but it was hardly the same.  Selina made it over to the UK a handful of times, with and without my godchild & its siblings, but work precluded a similar reunion between males.

Gilbert and I were both working internationally. flying in and out of the same airports without ever managing to synchronise.  But over the years, as he edged further East, and I edged further West, the opportunity of meeting slipped further from our collective grasp, like trying to grab bubbles and keep them for later.  Yet there was history and a strong connection in place...

So I was pretty thrilled when he called one day.  He'd be in Amsterdam, for a midweek conference.  So why wouldn't we both book a couple of days close to the weekend, hang out, get baked, catch up?  How good would that be?

I cracked on with booking flights, and a twin room at a slightly more than basic but somewhat less than opulent hotel down a central side street.  For two nights.  Reader, one of the things I've learned since is that, if you're not there for friends or cultural pursuits, but instead in search of burning fragrant horticulture and drinking hop-based beverages, one night in the 'dam is plenty.  Especially if you're spending it with Gilbert.

The appointed day came, and when I'd deplaned and passed through customs, Gilbert was sitting in the first bar just outside arrivals, where we enjoyed a chilled morning 5.1% beverage, Dutch style, which basically means a small glass of 40% beer/60% foam, head wiped off at the top with a grimy ruler.  They brew some good beer, the Dutch, but they're not over keen on letting you try too much of it in the same glass.

But there were more glasses to be had.  So after a train ride to the centre, and a bag dump at the hotel, we headed straight to the list of brown coffee shops that we wanted to check out.  Neither of us was entirely unaccustomed to a doobie, and as two respectable gentlemen in our early 40s, we wanted to avoid the Grasshopper style establishments and find somewhere comfortable we could settle in.

Obviously this took some time and effort, and we were forced to try several candidates en route, with an occasional chilled glass of froth beer in between.  But eventually we found Nirvana, a quiet coffee shop with comfortable seats, an excellent menu, and large picture windows looking out onto a run of red-lit canal-side glass booths.  We spent several happy hours getting stoned, drinking mint tea, and observing the transactions and timings taking place below: from the chap who was in and out in under a minute, to the one we saw enter but never saw leave.  He's probably still there, deciding between suck or fuck, or both.

Apparently that's your choice.  I say apparently, because while I've never been remotely tempted to pay for a shag, Gilbert proved to be slightly more motivated.  So as the darkness fell and the urge for food rose, we wandered back through the red light district below us.  Gilbert was incredibly keen on a foursome with two ladies who beckoned us in.  I didn't fancy the look of his much, let alone mine, and wasn't entirely convinced that it was just the dim lighting that lent both ladies more than a hint of five o'clock shadow.  I demurred, but before we'd gone another hundred yards, Gilbert had entered frenzied negotiations with a statuesque blonde behind red-lit glass, and was pulled inside, a faint and unappetising whiff of body odour and stale spunk emerging from the briefly opened door.

I'm sure he expected me to do the same, but I went for a walk around the block, keeping an eye out for his exit from the jizz-spattered cubicle.  This occurred some 25 minutes later, putting him squarely in the middle of the average timings we'd noted earlier.  I preferred not to think about the details of what might have taken place, and still do.  But at least he took more than 30 seconds, and presumably felt he'd achieved some kind of value for money.

I forget where, or what, we ate.  Marijuana apparently does that to you.  But I remember the end of the evening, as we lay in our twin beds, with the dodgy Dutch porn channel that Gilbert had selected playing silently in the corner of the room.  Again, my appetite for any kind of physical reaction to porn, while in the presence of another man, even a friend as close as Gilbert, is zero.  But that didn't seem to be an issue, and we chatted about our day as my eyelids drooped sleepily.

"Mate, can I ask you a question?"

Of course Gilbert could ask me a question.  We were friends.  We had no secrets.  I'd do anything for him.

"I don't want you to be offended...  It's not a problem if you don't want to...  But it's something I've been thinking about..."

"What, mate?  Spit it out."  A phrase in itself more loaded with irony than I could know.

"Can I give you a blow job?"

Brain freeze.  What the actual fuck?  Fighting down the urge to blurt out "Fuck off, you fat ginger cunt", on the basis that he hadn't wanted me to be offended, I commenced a long answer about how, while I was incredibly flattered and very fond of him, being gobbled by another man really wasn't my thing, thanks all the same and sorry to disappoint you.

"Oh, OK.  You could give me one, if you'd like."

No. No no no no no no nopetty no.  Even if his was the last remaining penis on the planet, I wouldn't be putting it in my mouth.  Not now, not ever, not even for a cash incentive and a double go on the two Scarletts:  Johannson & Moffatt.

I slept, I think, with one eye open.  Not my Jap's eye.  That remained tucked well under the sheets.  I'd have cut it off and locked it into the room safe, if I could have.  I was pretty sure he wasn't going to attempt to take me by force, but having been mildly surprised by his earlier proposal, I wasn't going to leave anything to chance.

The second day in this fine city, dear readers, was a carbon copy of the first.  Right down to another evening liaison between Gilbert and a rented lady, and the evening proposition of both giving and receiving.

"I thought you might have changed your mind..."

I hadn't.  Still haven't.

Strangely, we became less close over the time that followed, geography proving a fortunate barrier rather than an unwelcome impediment.  I've never taken his and Selina's offer up to visit them, even though I know the hospitality would be amazing and the welcome warm.  I don't want that kind of warm welcome, not ever.

So I told my friends about this - the ones that didn't know Gilbert and had no connection with him or his family, but otherwise kept my story to myself, unable and unwilling to rock anybody else's boat.

And then, some years on, hanging out with another shortly-to-emigrate married friend, who'd also been close to Gilbert, I told Charlie the full tale, leaving no detail out.

His response?

"Well thank Christ for that.  I thought I was the only one it had happened to."

Just goes to show that you can know someone, but perhaps you never really know them.

Anyway, if there are any chaps out there in search of a whiskery blow job, Gilbert's now in New Zealand.  But if that's your bag, maybe it's not too far to go.  He's quite flexible, apparently.


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