Online Dating 21: why Empire Biscuits are more romantic than babies

When I was with Terry Boy I was forever badgering him to paint me. He was an artist but preferred drawing crashing aeroplanes or stunted alien babies.

How romantic, I thought, if he were to paint me as I reclined on the sofa, with a flower in my hair, or if he could capture me watching the sunset from the balcony of our Maryhill high-rise…

‘Draw me’, I whined. ‘Do it!’ He pulled out his sketch book, waving me away so he could concentrate. I got busy in the kitchen and wondered what he’d be drawing. Would he focus on my lustrous red hair? Perhaps my enchanting hazel eyes?

Eventually, he ripped the finished sheet from his sketch book and placed it on the kitchen table.  It was a pencil drawing of me in bed, hunched under the covers.

A tuft of red hair poked out the top of the duvet, and two wee feet jutted out the bottom. Used hankies and empty Lucozade bottles littered the floor. A speech bubble over the crumpled bed said: ‘Ugh. I’m not well.’

So, it seems you can’t force a romantic gesture from a man. Try and force it and it blows up in your face.

I tried it once myself: the grand – but ultimately empty - romantic gesture. I was 20 and stuck in a relationship I wanted to be free from, but I was too damn scared to go it alone. In a fit of bravery and desperation, I ran off to France for the summer to work, hoping that would instil some independence in me.

I wandered the streets of Paris and found myself at the Sacre Couer. On the roof of the cathedral is a grimy white stretch of wall where thousands of tourists scratch their names. Each name is that of a couple – it’s the City of Love, after all – so the graffiti was all smugly intertwined names: Thingmy + Thingmy. So-and-so + So-and-so.  

Oh! I want to be in love! I want my name etched here, forever, in this beautiful place! I found a bare patch of wall, and knelt down with a biro. I wrote my name and began to write his next to it, but I stopped. I couldn’t place my name, indelibly, next to his in the City of Love.

I desperately wanted a romantic gesture – atop the Sacre Couer of all places – but I couldn’t do it. Such things cannot be forced. Anyway, I’d started so I had to finish. I scratched Julie + Boy on the wall. You can’t say I’m not pragmatic. Today, I can slot any of my current freak’s names into that ambiguous ‘Boy’. 

Yes, such bold gestures can’t be forced. When they are, they appear false, silly and uncomfortable. So, is that what Shug is up to, I wondered, with saying he wants a baby? Since his birthday, he has mentioned it repeatedly. He’s gone so far as to say it’s the most important thing.

But this doesn’t ring true with me. Shug is a divorced 49-year old man. Surely, if he so desperately wanted a baby, he’d have had one by now?

Besides, his life is so busy and teeming with activity: he’s always prancing around a stage, playing squash, writing musicals, jetting off on holiday, dashing through to Edinburgh to see a show, a cabaret, a panda…So how exactly could he fit in a screeching brat? Something’s not right here.

Aren’t we women supposed to be joyous and glowing when our men say they want a baby? Well, not me. After my initial shock, I just wondered what the hell he was up to.

I was cynical. I thought the baby chat was a ploy to make me all gooey and simpering and adoring. To lull me into some kind of false security. To fall at his feet. To place all my trust in him.

But stop – Shug’s a good guy! He’s not trying to trick me into anything. But neither can I believe he truly wants us to settle down and start popping sprogs. So what’s he up to?

My conclusion was that Shug was performing his own grand romantic gesture – he was saying what he thinks women want to hear, and he was maybe saying it in the hope that it would bring us closer - but he clearly hasn’t learned that such things cannot be forced.

Thinking back, over my appalling, funny, exhausting love life, there is one moment where I can pinpoint being utterly happy and it was summed up in a gesture which was small and simple.

I was a student at the time and was heading to Byres Road after my last lecture to meet Terry Boy. I remember practically skipping down Great George St and, there he was, waiting for me outside Greggs with a paper bag in his hand.

He scooped me up into a great bear hug then presented me with the bag: inside were two Empire Biscuits.  A tiny gesture, and a cheap and easy one, but I can honestly say I’ve never been happier than I was at that precise moment.

Maybe it’s because I was young, and Terry was my first love, and I had nothing to do except  get to lectures on time and linger in the library all day. Maybe it’s because we were so  poor that the sheer extravagance of two biscuits floored me.

Or maybe it’s because when you are really happy and secure and enwrapped in someone, there’s no need for grand gestures.

We walked back to our Maryhill flat which had no cooker and no washing machine, with junkies above us and jakies below, but I was happy.

Love – and a crumpled bag of Empire Biscuits - is enough.

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