Home > Don't You Forget About Me(9)

Don't You Forget About Me(9)
Author: Mhairi McFarlane

I flinched. In this moment, I definitely wasn’t the cool girl who wanted to hear the details and I didn’t like the way I felt Robin was trying to portray me as uptight and conventional. Even then, I could tell he was getting a kick out of it, congratulating himself as an erotic buccaneer, compared to Georgina the square.

So when he added: ‘Would you rather I didn’t say, in future?’ I instantly replied: ‘No,’ and changed the subject.

I didn’t ask if he’d mind if situations were reversed: when I unpick why, it’s because it’d mean either he was a hypocrite or he was totally without jealousy, which might be great for him but sort of flat for me.

Why didn’t I tell Robin that his free love, free’n’easy approach wasn’t for me? I was scared of seeming like the parochial fiancée in Billy Liar, a woman stuck in the past who represented the opposite of everything exciting.

And I was scared my expectations were never going to be met. But I’ve learned it’s better to have unrealistic expectations than none at all.

We’re two drinks deep and having established I don’t mind if they slag him off, the Robin roast is now a marinated deep smoke over a pit of coals. By the end of the night he’ll be nothing but pulled brisket in buns.

I feel a peculiar mix of gratitude and shame that I don’t feel sad, or any urge to defend him. It should be as if my heart’s been torn out and spat on. I only feel baffled, humiliated and empty. The empty was there before Robin, and he was a distraction from it.

‘Stand-up comics are often terrible people,’ Rav is saying. ‘Think about the personality type who decides to stand alone on a stage and say funny things and risk no one laughing. It’s for the maladjusted. The sad clown cliché. I’d rather spend time at Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest than backstage at the Comedy Store.’

‘You might’ve told me this before I dated one,’ I say.

‘I was going to, but like a scrubber you disappeared off into the night with him before I could give you my professional opinion. Afterwards I judged it unwanted.’

It was actually Rav’s fault that I’d met Robin in the first place. Rav had got us tickets for an open mike night. Robin was the last act, and by far the best. He did an excerpt of his show, I’m Not Being Funny But. It was much more of a storytelling style than those who’d leaned on the mike stand and chucked out one-liners, which got tiring after a while.

Afterwards we found ourselves in a group in a late-night hotel bar with him and two of the other acts, a turquoise-haired plus-size woman dressed as a fighter plane pin-up, and a depressive man from Solihull who wore a pork-pie hat. I had finally felt part of a Sheffield creative quarter.

Robin was tall, with a mop of telephone cord-like hair and small, shrewd blue eyes that contrasted with his red tartan shirt. He’d paced the stage rubbing his head, radiating a nervy energy. I could still smell the sweat from performance on him.

I had realised I was excited to meet him. He felt like something different from the usual men I encountered. Going places. Things to say. Knew what he was doing. I decided to wait for my moment to get his attention.

Robin held his mobile horizontal at chin level – a sign of a right tit I should have recognised, if ever there was one – and read a review aloud to his agent. They’d started the tour in London two nights previous, and apparently a verdict had just dropped.

‘McNee has an acute ear for the casual linguistic stupidities that infect daily life. He tries on a Stewart Lee-ish irascible rancour towards celebrities, his professional competitors, and even his audience, but it gradually slips over the line from knowingly self-parodic to plain self-indulgent … he becomes the very blowhard he seeks to send up. His ego is a drunk driver, but if his better instincts take control of the wheel, he could be something quite dazzling. You tell me, Al, is that praise or not?’


‘Yes I know, I’m asking you which of those two ways you take it.’


‘… Fair enough. I want to fold this cutting up and insert it into “Lee Hill” using a litter-picking claw.’


‘No I know Chortle is a website and there isn’t a hard copy, you might be missing the point.’

He hung up. Everyone was quiet. I wasn’t nervous, mainly due to two powerful drinks that tasted like evil jam, with fat Morello cherries on sticks in them.

‘A review with the words superb, dazzling, and “acute ear”. I’d take it,’ I say.

Robin looked at me.

‘What about my ego being a pissed driver?’

I shrugged.

‘You can’t do it without ego. There’s no way Richard Pryor or … Lenny Bruce didn’t have ego. It’s right up there with demons. Ego and demons. It’s to making art what eggs and bacon are to making breakfast.’

Robin stared.

‘Wow. Yes. And you are?’

Introductions were made, champagne was ordered on someone’s tab and the night was properly underway.

‘You’re a writer?’ Robin said, with one arm slung round the velvet banquette, in a way that meant it was sort of slung round me.

‘Hah! No. Who told you that?’

‘Your advice to me sounded like one writer to another …?’

I glowed. This was one of the best things I’d ever heard.

‘… That said, you’re a bit too healthy for it. You don’t have the black coffee and fags face. You look like you leave the house and get fresh air.’

I knew I was being hit upon, but my blood alcohol level and the bass-line in a Prince song were in harmony, and I was happy to be flattered.

‘I’m a waitress.’

‘Ah! That’s cute.’ (There it was, that tone. Clem was right.)

I’d nearly said: I’d like to be a writer but I knew the next question would be, what have you written? and the answer is a big old nothing, bar a diary that I was once quite proud of, so I didn’t.

‘I have a research question, you can help me with my act,’ Robin said. ‘What’s it like being beautiful?’

Over his shoulder, I could see Rav making a ‘gun to temple and firing’ gesture.

Maybe in other circumstances I’d have groaned, but it felt like Robin was being refreshing and surprising. And you know, it’s never the worst thing to hear.

‘I’m not beautiful.’

I resisted the urge to fuss at my hair, but held my stomach in.

‘You clearly are.’

‘Well, thank you.’

‘So what it’s like being beautiful, is thinking you’re not beautiful?’

I laughed. ‘Erm. If you insist.’

‘That’s a let-down. I’d thought it’d be like being a Disney heroine where you can make the pots and pans clean themselves and the broom dance.’

Rav leaned over minutes later and whispered: ‘I bet you can make his broom dance, if you follow.’

I laughed and realised I was interested in someone for the first time in ages.

I did something that night I never do: as Robin reappeared and slid back in next to me, refilling my glass: I thought, I’m having you. I’m taking you home.

After whispered I like you / I like you toos and kissing by the taxi rank we ended up having very mediocre intercourse in a room at The Mercure, as Robin couldn’t even be bothered to travel back to his flat. My big first-night-sex adventure ended with me bouncing around on top of a very drunk, semi-comatose comedian who kept groaning: ‘Talk dirty to me, Georgina the waitress, talk dirty! Be filthy and nasty!’


I shouted: ‘Shag me, you curly-haired blowhard!’

Rav is still musing Robin’s shortcomings.

‘You know, I didn’t spend enough time around Robin to diagnose the Dark Triad, but I wouldn’t be surprised.’

‘That sounds like a hip-hop group.’

‘Narcissism, manipulation, lack of empathy,’ Rav says, counting them off on his fingers, then grabbing for the open bag of Walkers. ‘The people who can reel you in and spit you out, without a second’s guilt.’

Rav is a counsellor. You’d never peg the skinny Asian lad with the Morrissey quiff and the discreetly peacocky clothing as such. He is coolly analytical and unsentimental and probably the ideal person to have around if you get yourself involved with a technicolour fountain of dysfunction like Robin. Though there’s now been enough alcohol-fuelled deconstruction I think we might’ve turned your run-of-the-mill selfish arse into a Shakespearean villain.

Jo chews the inside of her lip.

‘I thought Robin was very idio … idio …’

‘Idiotic?’ Clem says.

‘No … like, idi …’

‘Idi Amin?’ Rav says.

‘No, a word for individual that isn’t individual!’

‘Idiosyncratic?’ I say.

‘Yes! I didn’t like how rude he was to you though.’

I frown. ‘I honestly thought it was teasing.’

I prize my capacity to take a joke. It’s painful to think my friends were cringing for me, and that I don’t know where the line should be.

Clem purses her mouth.

‘And whenever you gave an opinion about anything, Robin was straight in there with “maybe the people who disagree have a point” or “maybe you were too touchy”. I spotted it right away as a psycho ex used to do it to me. Constant undermining. They don’t want you to trust yourself on anything.’

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