The Oldest of Old Flames

The sky is blue, the Black Dog is in his kennel and this week I spent a precious day with the Oldest of Old Flames, aka OOOF.

I’m not a bloke usually found whistling first thing in the morning, being more of a night howl.

But at circa 7am this week as I stood there watching the kettle not boil, I began whistling away like Roger bloody Whittaker calling after his dogs.

If you must know, it was Hotel California by The Eagles (1977).

I nearly dropped a scalding kettle over my toes at the sudden shock of it all.

I don’t know why I was whistling and I can’t remember the last time I heard that song.

More importantly of all, I can’t really remember whistling in the morning for years, not having had a great deal to whistle about.

So in that idle moment this week, it really felt like something had changed.

That, perhaps, the world looked a few shades brighter for the first time in years.

The sky is blue, the Black Dog is in his kennel, and all I can blame this outbreak of howling on is that this week I spent a day with the Oldest of Old Flames, aka OOOF.

And an OOOF day it turned out to be too.

Regular unlikers of this column will know that I finally tracked her down in April.

We hadn’t seen each other this century and I think we last spoke on the phone around the turn of the Millennium, circa 1998.

We first got together at 14 which is 36 years ago, and were last a fully-fledged item back in 1994 when we were both 22.

We went our separate ways that summer as we wanted very different things from life. I basically wanted her to be more fully in mine and she didn’t.

I had the career tied to one place, and as an international jet-setter from Spain, she understandably had other places to go.

Yet here we are again in 2022, both aged 50, both single, both in Cumbria.

And as I got off the train on Wednesday afternoon and threw my arms around her, all the old fireworks started to go off.

It was like being reunited with a missing piece of myself. Like in Terminator 2 where that fella’s limbs grow back.

Except for me it was a bit of old broken heart.

Being a cool, independent lone wolf, I decided against an on-the-spot proposal of marriage until after lunch.

Sitting there in a distant pub with warm sun streaking through the windows and OOOF chattering away and stroking every pet in the place, the decades melted away.

It could have been 1993 all over again.

I’d forgotten quite how dark brown her eyes are and how much I enjoy looking in them.

Even one of the late mother’s favourite songs randomly chunked on to the old jukebox like a karmic ghost was playing DJ.

Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986) – which I last heard at her funeral.

OOOF’s cats curled endlessly around my legs and purred, and her pet parrot wasn’t sick all over me.

I can’t put my finger on what it all means. Is it chemistry, coincidence, kismet, or lager carbohydrates?

We have both stood on our own two feet but it was very special to roll back the years and be a couple again. Me agreeing with everything I disagree with!

The train had barely left the station before I got a text telling me the day was PRECIOUS! (Her capitals).

If you and a significant ex ever find yourself in the position to mend burned bridges, I would recommend you try it.

It does wonders for the state of mind and you might find yourself whistling Hotel California near a hot kettle in an open dressing gown.

As for OOOF and I, there are large, personal, hurdles.

And typically, on my long and contemplative train journey home, I saw that blasted single Magpie who seems to follow me around all the time.

I saluted it with both fingers and started to whistle the tune to Graceland.

Bad Friday

The Oldest of Old Flames and I, spoke for six solid hours on the telephone and I could tell neither of us really wanted to be the first to hang up.

Regular readers of this column will know that the Butchelor Pad commands stunning views over next door’s wheelie bins and a neighbouring car park.

I roost high up among 23 telephone wires, several old-fashioned chimney stacks, two plastic owl decoys (not mine) and a visiting house sparrow.

It likes to arrive as early as it can every morning and sit as near to my boudoir as possible – just in case I’m getting too much sleep, especially at weekends.

Having lived here for four months now, I now have a new understanding of that estate agent euphemism ‘convenient to local facilities’.

What it actually means in practice is that I can hear every late-night mating call of every passing troop of howler monkeys swinging from pub to pub.

I can also hear every unnecessary door slam of those rocking up at takeaways to collect their grub.

And given the ease with which we can now instantly and silently communicate via mobile phones, I will never understand the need at 3am for some people to shout across the street at the top of their voices.

For a generation which usually considers their phone on a par with a major organ equivalent to the brain, heart and lungs – why do they feel the need to bellow at their mates when the rest of us are trying to get some shut eye, instead of messaging them?

I don’t generally mind these signs of life, but what I cannot abide is tolerating them during the week only then being woken up at the weekend by a tourist’s car alarm.

An alarm apparently so highly sensitive that it goes off at the slightest cough or passing fart and doesn’t stop blaring until they return from a day’s hiking up Helvellyn?

And why would a carpet shop need a burglar alarm? Is there a dark web for stolen Axminister?

Do shadowy rug pushers heave rolls of shag pile between pubs?

I haven’t slept very well for years now anyway, and all this noise nuisance isn’t helping.

Around these parts, I’ve also become aware of a regular late-night drag racer who clearly fancies himself as an F1 driver and the town centre as his race track.

He treats the chicanes and mini roundabouts round here with the contempt Senna did of La Rascasse in Monaco.

I have become highly attuned to his approaching exhaust and increasingly violent accelerations.

My hope is that one of these nights he meets a lamp-post in the middle of his path and not an elderly pedestrian, and that he ends up in that great scrapyard of the sky.

Stupid, show off drivers being the absolute pinnacle of knobheadery in my book.

Yet somehow I don’t really mind any of it and have laughed at it this week.

I have found myself falling for the Oldest of Old Flames, the first girl I loved when I was 14.

On Wednesday night, OOOF and I, spoke for six solid hours on the telephone and I could tell neither of us really wanted to be first to hang up.

Instead of 30 years ago, it felt like ten flaming minutes and it was nice that she is no longer the Coldest of Old Flames.

But I was badly burned at 22 and yet here I find myself again at 50, with no oven gloves and a pigheaded unwillingness to face facts that it will go down in flames.

There’s no fool like an old fool, I suppose, but what a brain she has and I could listen to her for hours, which is handy when it takes 20 minutes to get a word in.

I find myself bounding out of bed again with a rare zeal, when I really should be acting all urbane and aloof and independent.

At my time of strife, I can do without all this kind of nonsense. We’ve tried domesticity before and if memory serves, it was like keeping a Golden Eagle in a budgie cage.

Capturing me was about as easy as trapping a blind duck with an old crust.

The madness of it is that among my belongings, I recently located an old diary entry from Easter 1986 when we first met as young teenagers.

I read it out to her and it records how she pointed out in the night sky that Venus, the auspicious planet of love, was visible.

As was the Big Dipper.

In spite of all my adult instincts, I fear I am about to have one last go on the roller coaster again.

Heart says: ‘Tunnel of Love,’ head screams ‘Ghost Train.’

My face will go through all the emotions Bob Hoskins manages at the end of The Long Good Friday, (1979) which I always make a point of watching over Easter.