London was ours.
Well not ours exactly, in the sense that we didn't own it.
Noone really owned London of course, certainly we didn't.
We owned some things, but no big cities at all, come to think of it.
Oh, I'm getting sidetracked here and I don't want to be.
London, you see, was where we all lived and we, as much as anyone else living there, saw it as our place. We kept everything that belonged to us in London; So London, then, belonged to us.
No, that's not right, is it.
We really belonged to London, if anything.
Oh no, this is becoming like the opening to Manhattan except with London instead of New York.
Not that Poppy would know that movie, since she'd never heard of Woody Allen. To her it was as if he'd never even existed.
Oh, Hell. I knew this would happen. I knew I'd get muddled.
It's just that I promised someone I'd start the story with the sentence 'London was ours.' It was meant to be firm. Sort of definite. Really get things going.
I don't particularly like the sentence - it's wrong, you know. I think I've made that clear.
But I needed to start somehow. Oh, the last sentence is 'You took your time to call.'
And I guess the in between stuff is coming up.
I guess it all started with a lie I told at Dolly's party. She's an old work colleague from a TV show called The Gulag. We'd take someone from an easy job and force them to work really bloody hard for a while. Made good TV. She's done the flat all out in micro-minimalism where not only is everything totally white but what storage spaces and fittings there are are incredibly tiny. It's like being a giant at the North Pole.
Dolly is hoping to get it featured in the new issue of Interiority Complex, the new taste fascism magazine and she's keen for a good turnout.
Who's here? Let me do my meerkat.
I can see Bobby, who makes Nicotine Patch Kids. These are dolls for children whose parents are trying to give up smoking. The dolls steadily put on weight and their mood becomes grouchier the more the kids play with them. The chip inside is programmed with phrases like "Not now, dammit!" and "If you knew what I was going through!"
There was Scarlett, the inventor of Emotion Detectors, devices you install around your house that sense your Kirlian aura and if they see you're a little blue an alarm goes off and it tells you to cheer up, it might never happen.
She was talking to Fran, a video games designer who had just launched Prima Ballerina 99 onto the Playstation. You controlled a dancer as she jumped, pirouetted and curtseyed around the top opera houses of the world. It was very boring.
People were showing their various faces, alternate versions of themselves like they're the same character played by different actors. A typical party.
I wanted to find Jim, my sort of best mate.
We don't speak that often these days and when we do it's guarded talk. See, I'm a believer in mate tectonics. Most of the time we're at rest or, at worst, in drift with people we know. At other times we scrape up against them causing friendquakes. Jim and I were experiencing the aftershocks of a particularly nasty one to do with work. I won't explain. We all have them.
I don't want to tell him about the programme I'm developing, Gameshow Alpha, so I spin him a line about a BBC daytime quiz called Call My Bluff... If You Dare.
I tell him how we'd have the usual people, Thora Hird, Stephen Fry, Alan Coren, but they'd all be armed with a secret weapon under the desk. These would vary from a peashooter, say, filled with Amazonian snake venom, to maybe an AK47 or Gurkha machete. The opponent would have to guess which of the three definitions of the strange word was accurate but take into account his accusee's skill with the weapon.
He came back and said he was working on a show called The Love Armoury, a sort of Blind Date for gun enthusiasts. I knew he wasn't, but he had to stay even. I smiled a Ming the Merciless smile as I knew he'd be telling everyone about CMBIYD, which as I said, was a lie, but sometimes you have to use your friends for your own ends. You have to be cruel to them to be kind to yourself.
I felt bad about lying to Jim and I knew I would have to make it up to him sometime.
THE NEXT DAY OUR STORYTELLER MEETS A GIRL CALLED POPPY WHO MAKES AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT ON HIM. . .
We headed for a cafe. Dave had to drop off the film, so it was just me and Poppy. We spent the afternoon talking. She was making a customised Monopoly board starring her standing in front of all the addresses in the right colours, holding the right amount of money. She was going to send it out as a Christmas present for her friends around the world to remind them of London and her. It sounded great.
We talked about so much stuff. My work, my family. Her family, her work. Her hobbies, her joys. We venn-diagrammed our lives and found a massive shared middle.
It's hard for me to explain now how amazing this girl was. She smiled at everything. She had a toyshop mind and eyes that looked like laughter. A heart big as an open continent and a smile like a warming morning. And she had such an fantastic outlook. Her philosophy was that there was no point in worrying about things you've got control over, cos if you've got control over them, there's no point in worrying. And there's no point in worrying about things you've got no control over, because if you've got no control over them there's no point in worrying about them.
Meeting her was like visiting a place you've only read about and finding it's even more fantastic than you had imagined.
We eventually had to make our moves. She gave me her number. And I smiled all the way home.
IT ALL SEEMS TO BE GOING SO WELL. . .
We had another date at the weekend. I had wanted to go to watch the Royal Linedancing Company do Swan Creek, but Poppy was insistent. She seemed to win her arguments through a technique of ever increasing enthusiasm for her cause so that it was virtually impossible to maintain a contrary position. It's why they don't let puppies be barristers. So we went up to Hampstead Heath to stroll and shop. She bought some formal trainers with little rubber high heels, I got a Scalextric set that had obviously fallen off the back of a lorry - the cars all had false number plates. We headed up to the Heath and splashed in all the puddles. Must have been a Big Dog I said whenever we went past a particularly large puddle and this seemed to make her laugh as much as it did me whenever my Dad used to say it.
God, I loved this girl. There was something so right about her, about me when I was with her.
I took a photo of Poppy. I had a camera with the new watercolour film. Have you seen them? It takes the photo, and in the developing process the picture comes out as if it had been painted with watercolours. You could get oil, charcoal and pencil films too. Soon you would be able to buy a Rembrandt or Turner or Constable chip for the camera. Then all the photos you would take would automatically be filtered to look like they had been painted by whichever old master you wanted. The Munch chip was a scream. One of Jim's ideas. A good one too, I had to admit. Well done.
There's a reason I don't have that photo anymore, but I still carry that image in my mind's wallet, as precious as a hundred pound note.