Part 6: The Letter
You join me a good three weeks down the line. It is early December, and the trees that I mentioned at the start of Part 1 are completely naked. In response to this, the folk of Manchester have taken evergreen fir trees into their homes, presumably to stop their naked deciduous brothers feeling jealous. Christmas is coming.
The atmosphere between bus-girl as she is now known and myself is as cold as the weather, which is quite cold. Glove-cold, if you want to be specific. Unsurprisingly, my weak attempt at an introduction fell flat, and didn’t lead to the glorious conversations I envisioned. We have spoken since, but only a muttered thanks, as one of us lets the other out of their seat first, my gestures accompanied by a warm smile (I hope), hers with a shy look of acknowledgment.
Looking back, it seems so obvious. Of course nothing happened. It didn’t go well, but equally it’s important that it didn’t go badly either. With all the multifarious, ever escalating options I considered, it genuinely never occurred to me that she might just not care.
I’m very glad I did it though – I’m glad to have experienced a crush, and allowed it to grow, and acted on it. It almost completely doesn’t matter that nothing happened.
I say as much to Dan next time we have another of our lengthy chats.
‘You can do better than that you insufferable gump.’ he says.
I am lucky to have Dan as a friend.
Dan is still keen for me to approach the young lady, however, and puts forward the idea of writing my feelings in a letter. I can hear you scoffing from here, you dirty great scoffer.
I think he has a point though; it’s Christmas; a special time; a time for miracles. If there ever was a time for archaic sentimentality and glaring proclamations of affection, it’s now. I can write a small letter of polite introduction and slot it inside a Christmas card – this would be an acceptable gesture at this time of year.
Or would it be? Romance is dead; that’s pretty much universally agreed on – even in lightweight forms, or so I’m lead to believe, what with LAD culture/Channel 4’s Yoof TV/Casual sex up against a bin and all that. Are Grand Romantic Gestures now considered social faux-pas? Is that kind of behavior actually likely to push her away? Should I knacker off the whole thing? Or should I be confident, knowing that I’d be more interested in a young lady who finds this sort of thing appealing?
I draft out a letter. It goes exactly like this.
Dear Girl on the Bus,
I hope you don’t mind the intrusion, I don’t normally do this sort of thing, but I wanted to take the plunge and say hello, even if it is via this odd little letter.
This probably isn’t the best way to say it, but I’ve noticed you on the bus a few times, and I’ve admired you from afar for a while, in a way I realise is probably coming across as quite creepy, so sorry about that.
You have a certain bohemian air about you that catches the eye, or my eye at any rate. I also notice you appear to enjoy a good read, which is right up my street. People ought to read more (myself included). I’d like to be able to tell you about all the impressive books I’m reading, but sadly the evenings currently find me nose deep in Alan Partridge’s fictional autobiography.
By way of introduction, my name is Chris, and I’m a designer at an agency in Manchester. I’m fairly new in town, and in my spare time I enjoy a good laugh, a good tune and a good cup of tea.
Anyway, if this letter hasn’t put you right off, I’d like to get to know you better at all. I would invite you to add me on Facebook, but I have an unfortunately common name and you’ll never find me. Instead, you are welcome to drop me an email at [my email address].
If (as I suspect is the case) this letter has only served to deeply unnerve you, then instead, please accept it for the compliment it is. I won’t bother you again, save to apologise for invading your privacy and to wish you a Merry Christmas.
So, sorry and that, and Merry Christmas.
Well that’s it. I’ve done it. I worry if it’s lighthearted enough: does it seem threatening at all? What I’m essentially doing is personally handing her evidence to be used against me in a sex trail. It must be absolutely spot on. It must also be earnest and personal – I know I ought to handwrite it, but as a designer, I’d rather put it in resplendent Garamond. I have a font problem. Actually I’ve got loads of problems, this is just one of them.
Talking of problems; the jokey part of my brain never shuts up. here’s just some of the lines I rejected.
‘You don’t know who I am, but I’ve been watching you for a while.’
‘I like everything about you. I bet you have a lovely bum.’
‘I cannot express my feelings better than this song. It is about death.’
‘You and me. Right now. Go on. Please!’
‘I’ve admired you for a while and have come to the conclusion that you’ll have to do. To be honest you look like you’d be quite a lot of effort, but you’re traditionally good looking, and that seems to be all that matters these days…’
‘If, as I suspect, this letter has served only to deeply unnerve you, please don’t alert the authorities. LOL.’
‘Roses are red. Violets are blue. Cabbage is green. Go out with me?’
I decide I need a second opinion. I ask my friend Clare to have a read through and to tell me her thoughts. Clare has been a girl since she was born, and her girl membership is valid for another five years. She is also engaged to Handsome John, so she clearly knows a thing or two about romance. Here are some extracts form Clare’s email.
Thank you for thinking of me as a girl.
Speaking from a personal point of view, I would love to get a letter like this, provided two conditions were met. The sender must not be a total randomer, and must also not look like a total creepy goon.
When you give her the letter, I strongly suspect her response will be slight shock, awkwardness and a thank you. This is simply because people don’t do these kind of things any more. However, I also strongly suspect that after reading the letter she will realise you’re not a sex pest, and will actually be very flattered. I know I would be, and I also asked two other trusted girls, who agreed. Don’t worry, to preserve you anonymity I have told them you’re called Nigel, after Nigel Thornberry, a smashing gentleman.
So, in conclusion, yes, go for it. If she contacts you and things happen, wonderful story to tell the grandchildren. If not, you’ll always be the person who wrote her a love letter and told her she was pretty. Girls love that. She’ll remember it for a long time, either way! I bet it will be worth it. If she likes this kind of stuff, you’re onto a winner.
This proves that this is fine. I will take Clare’s advice and will try very hard not to look like a goon. I have been given the official thumbs-up by a registered girl, and if it all goes wrong it is now all Clare’s fault.
I also asked my friend Joe his thoughts. Joe is not a girl, not even an unqualified one, and in hindsight I have no idea why I asked him.1 Here’s his response.
I had a read through of your letter, and tried to put myself in the position and mental state of a girl on a bus. This was surprisingly easy.
Upon receiving the letter, my initial emotion was surprise, followed by flattery. I thought it was very sweet that someone would go out of their way to write me a letter, even if it was a little unusual.
However, I did find some of the phrasing a bit creepy, but you then mentioned that you knew it was creepy. This kind of didn’t help with the general creepiness factor – the sex criminal who knows he is being sex criminal-y is still, after all, a sex criminal. Maybe going with something more casual would work, like ‘I’ve noticed you on the bus a few times, and you seem rather cute/nice/fancy/rapeable/pretty’. One of those was a joke, just to keep you vigilant.
I do enjoy a good read, but I’m a little creeped out by the implication that you’ve been watching me hungrily like a sex rapist. I know that’s almost certainly not the case – I read on the bus, and anyone glancing over can see that without necessarily wanting to do unspeakable things to me, but still.
Tone it down a smidgen, maybe go with ‘I’ve noticed you with a book once or twice’. Then I will be less intimidated – after all, I read all the time, but if you’ve only noticed me once or twice out of all those times then you come across as less obsessive and therefore less likely to wear my skin as a cloak.
And I’ll never find you on Facebook? Never? That sounds like sexism to me. So I’m a woman, therefore I can’t work computers, is that it? I’ll find you on Facebook. I’ll find the FUCK out of you on Facebook. And then I won’t add you as a friend, but I’ll go through your pictures and laugh at them, even if they aren’t particularly funny. That’ll show you and your chauvinist ways… Oh, and ‘like to get to know you better at all’ doesn’t make much sense. Make more sense. Chicks dig that.
Anyway, let me know how it goes.
Joe’s response voiced many of my fears; I will reconsider some of the phrasing. I am potentially walking right into a court case here, and so is he with the ease in which he slipped into a female persona, figuratively speaking.
I thank my friends and promise to let them know how it goes, and I commend Joe on his use of the word ‘smidgen.’ I edit the letter accordingly, trying not to wonder if this really isn’t OK, and whether or not I should be publishing this…
Part 7: Stationary and Cancer
In my lunch hour on Thursday I go to a card shop in Manchester to buy a Christmas card to house my letter of romantic introduction. There are very few cards for people you don’t know; perhaps the cards-for-introduction market is one worth examining. There are cards dealing with every special occasion, but few for just general use and fewer still suitable for my intentions.
Anything with too much of a message on will be reliant on a connection we don’t (yet) have, and besides, the majority of cards feature cringeworthy missives of the highest order. Similarly, anything too humorous or twee might affect the judgement of my beloved bus-girl. I’m not getting any card with anthropomorphic animal mascot on because I have taste.2
After circuiting the shop twice, I notice a small box of ten Christmas cards at about 8 cm tall, each featuring the same picture of London’s Embankment in the snow. Not kitsch, not soppy, not overfamiliar. Instead; cold, stark, desolate, and, because we’re in Manchester, irrelevant. Perfect.
I scurry to the checkout, and pay £3.00. The shopkeep asks me if I’m interested in buying a pen to help a charity effort, and because I am in a cheery mood I say yes.
‘Well,’ he says, ‘the pink ones are for breast cancer, and the blue ones for prostate cancer.’
There are some decisions in life that are very difficult to make, and whilst I’m not suggesting that choices involving actual cancer aren’t some of the most difficult and traumatic choices anyone will ever have to make, this is definitely up there.
How to choose? Should I compare the two forms of cancer? Or should I compare the varying forms of stationary? Or should I be needlessly and tastelessly flippant and contrast having breast cancer with buying a pen? No. Definitely not. That would never do.
The two causes are equally worthy, although breast cancer charities seem to have a wider profile, largely because stereotypical men don’t go to the doctor. Bloody blokes. Should I then donate towards a hidden problem? But would it be selfish to side with the problem that might affect me? What would the beautiful bus-girl think of my self-serving “charity”? Maybe I should double-bluff and plump for the pink pen.
But what would the people in the queue think if I was to choose breast cancer over prostate cancer? Would they think me some breast-obsessed pervert? And what does this say about me? That the mere thought of breast cancer conjures thoughts of breasts? Is that natural? Or am I becoming a ‘lad’? Does this mean I’m only a few steps away from stereotypically not going to the doctors and stereotypically not getting my prostate gland checked and stereotypically repressing cancer and stereotypically getting steadily sicker and sicker on a hospital waiting list, hoping some dopey gump will buy a charity pen to fund some research into saving my stereotypically cancerous bumhole?
Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way. Scratch that: I’m definitely going about this the wrong way. Should I then decide based on the practicalities of the pen? I’m a fan of stationary3 but I already have a preferred pen4 and am not looking to upgrade any time soon. I’ve never written in pink ink because I am not and have never been an eleven-year-old girl, and probably never will be. Should I let this cloud my judgement? Would it be dreadful of me to deny breast cancer sufferers my valuable research funds simply because I find black ink to be reliable enough thank-you-very-much?
Meanwhile, back in the real world, I’ve been quiet for too long.
‘I assume they aren’t pro-cancer.’ I jest tastelessly, playing for time.
‘No!’ he chuckles, amused, thus proving I am funny. Then there’s silence again.
I need another joke to fill while I decide. I think about implying that the prostate cancer pen can be used as a rectal testing kit, but it is lunchtime, and nobody needs the image of me putting a pen up my bum, no matter what colour it is.5
Also it is neither plausible, nor funny. Instead I voice my internal dilemma;
‘Surely I shouldn’t be made to choose?’
He laughs again. I give up and pick the blue pen, pay and leave the store.
Back at home I look at my new cancer-smashing purchase. It’s cumbersome and tacky and I will never use it.6 Tits. Or should that be balls? Not this again…
Reaching for my box of cards, I take a closer look, and on further inspection the cards are festooned in glitter. Bugger.
This is already an extravagant enough gesture without involving glitter. Adding glitter to anything has no practical value, it is a gesture, the equivalent to adding hundreds and thousands to a cake; it doesn’t taste any better but now it looks fancy. It says something about a man when he chooses to apply extra sparkles to something – something entirely incongruous with my subdued and considered grand romantic gesture. If there was ever a mixed message…
‘Hello, I hope you don’t mind the intrusion but I reckon you’re pretty lovely and would like to get to know you. Also, SPARKLES!! xox LOL 😀 !!!1!!’
Ah well. There’s no helping it now. I’ll just have to hope she likes my semi-self-defeating whimsy, glitter and all.
I stayed late at work to print a nice layout design onto some special cartridge paper I bought earlier.7 Later I handwrite the letter (with a Fineliner). I start over twice due to mistakes. It takes me two hours.
I fold the letter in on itself twice. It fits exactly, just like I designed it to. I slot it into the card (another perfect fit), seal the envelope, write ‘Girl on the Bus’ on it and put it into my jacket pocket in case I forget to pick it up the next morning because you can never be too careful.8
I am ready.
Part 8: The Grand Romantic Gesture
I am so ready.
What a shame she’s not on the bus.
I have left it too late – she has no doubt finished Uni for Christmas.
Dejected, I send a promised text, and my friends reply in kind;
‘Noooo!’ says Clare.
‘Noooooooo!’ says Joe.
‘Maybe she’s dead.’ says Dan, helpfully.
I keep the letter in my pocket. There’s a chance she might have been late, or ill, and simply missed the bus. There’s always next week…
That evening I take the train to visit the aforementioned Helpful Dan in Norwich. We watch comedy and eat biscuits. We discover that we have the same toothbrush. It was the best weekend ever.
The next day I meet Dan’s marvelous girlfriend Bea. I show her the letter and tell her about my Grand Romantic Gesture, which she thinks is lovely. I accidentally make Dan look like a bad boyfriend, so he has to take her to a nearby Drainage Museum for a treat. Dan knows how to have a good time.
The letter remains in my pocket the whole time. It pleases me that the letter will have had a bit of a life before it meets its recipient, bearing its tidings of awkward affection. Thanks to the British Rail Network, it will have travelled from Manchester to Leeds to Peterborough to Ely to King’s Lynn, before going back to Manchester, handed to a young lady and put in a bin.
She isn’t there next week. The letter remains in my pocket all Christmas, adding Leicester to it’s passport. As I head back up to Manchester to start work again, I contemplate re-writing the letter, but the magic of Christmas is gone. It’s January now, and in the stark light of the New Year, the whole business seems like a frivolous waste of effort.11
But how close did I get though!?12 At least I did it. That’s the main thing. And I’m happy I did.
Ultimately, however, I am still alone, and despite 8,000 obsessive words that will no doubt one day be used to convict me, this doesn’t count.
1 Once, I walked in to his kitchen find him shirtless and with his hands in a big bowl of what I can only describe as ‘purple’. When quizzed, he revealed he was ‘makin’ soup!’ He might not be the best person to ask for advice. He does have a girlfriend though, but she’s pretty much his carer.
2 Forever Friends. Boofle the Dog. Purple Ronnie. Slammed.
3 I’ve never owned the naked-lady pen, partly because it’s a bit base and partly because society frowns upon me enough without me being ‘Dirty Pen Man’ as well, but I do love a good novelty pen. My best pen features a frog-topper complete with a boxing glove mechanism. I remember I once used it to break the ice with a pretty young lady during my school days. Oh how times change…
4 0.3mm Fineliner. Don’t pretend you care.
6 Not even as a rudimentary rectal examination kit. Sorry again.
7 It cost me £3.20. This means I have spent just over £6 purely to introduce myself to a girl. Financially speaking, this is the most significant commitment I have made to a lady for years: one pound for every spoken word we have exchanged. I must really like her…
8 Check your balls.
9 It’s like regular nervous, only more so.
10 Good subtitle for the blog, that.
11 Another good subtitle for the whole blog, there.
12 Absolutely nowhere.