9: The beginning is always the hardest part

There is nothing like the real world to bring you crashing down to Earth.

Yes. It happens sometimes.

I work in my own book shop, which means I have to speak to members of the public now and again – it’s like, part of the job. And, occasionally, these members of the public are women, and also (even more occasionally), they are attractive.

‘Wow, you’re tall.’

This was from a lady at the counter, wanting to buy a copy of The Girl on the Train book.

‘Thanks. I already know that.’

You know, it’s not a bad existence really, being really tall. How many other people walk around and people say ‘wow’ to them? Shame it’s not for my looks, or my deportment, or my initials (sometimes it’s my initials) – it’s more like, ‘wow, you’re a freak’.

‘Sorry. Just saying,’ she said.

‘I know. That’s okay. I get it a lot, you know? But it’s okay.’

Then, as with all people I meet, I looked at her, or more accurately, did what everyone does, and made my evaluation.  She was kind of short, with dark, tousled hair, tied at the back, though a little of it had slipped out to hang over her face. And her eyes. Brown, and huge. Beautiful, even, and she looked a little mixed race. Some of you might see the phrase ‘mixed race’ and think ‘brown’, but hold on, why does mixed race have to mean a mix between black and white (which is actually grey, which is actually the colour of dead people)? There, you see, it’s that brain ‘auto-correct’ at work.

Oh, wait a second, I didn’t explain that – the brain ‘auto-correct’. Here’s a mini-rant:

Society has us so wrapped up in political correctness that we don’t know what to do for the best anymore, so our brains keep us grounded in reality. That auto correct thing in my brain – it’s like, when I hear the phrase ‘African American’, my brain auto-corrects it to ‘black’, or if I hear the phrase ‘vertically-challenged’, my brain changes it to ‘short’, and sometimes sticks ‘arse’ on the end.

As an aside to the vertically-challenged people, I feel their pain. I am what you would call ‘vertically-unchallenged’, or even ‘vertically-overloaded’ (brain auto-correct: ‘freakish’), and like those small people, I have to deal with daily, relentless comments about it.

It seems to be accepted, though.

If I see people that are hugely overweight (brain auto-correct: ‘fat’), I don’t go up to them randomly and say things like ‘wow, I couldn’t help coming near you – it must be your gravitational field’, or ‘hey, were you born in a GM crop?’, because, apparently, this would upset them. It’s okay to do these things to me, though. There are not many people that can walk into a room and have everybody stare at them, and sometimes, and this doesn’t happen often but enough for me to notice, some of them are scared. I can see it in their eyes.

Scared of me; the gentle giant who would never hurt anybody. That perception thing, it can be ruthless sometimes. Like there’s some kind of ‘acceptable height’ window?

At least the overweight can do something about it. When you’re really tall, or short, there’s nothing you can do about it, at all. There’s no diet available to make you grow, or shrink, vertically, but there’s plenty for shrinking horizontally and, I feel, if comments about your weight upset some people, maybe they should get on one.


And what is their auto-correctness? Big-boned? Glandularly-affected? Depressively obsessive?


All problems start with the mind, as do all solutions.

Actually, I am picking on hugely overweight people here and don’t really mean to. There are many other groups of people who can fix their problems with a little work, and who get offended when someone else says something about them. I mean, religion for one… just, just, don’t get me started on that.

Take for example, Muslims (okay, I guess I got myself started on that).

The ones I’ve met are nice people. They are friendly, approachable, kind, and embarrassed by all that shit going on with ISIS bombings and what not. I’m afraid the ones dressed in burkas don’t help their cause, though. I mean, if you’re walking around and you see someone dressed up like they’re Darth Vader, you’re going to be a bit wary.

Rant termination applied, Mr. Wiggenstein… (ah, okay. It looks like the rant on religion will have to wait.)

‘You get a lot of people talking to you because of your height?’ she said.

‘Yeah. It’s kind of like being famous, but without the good bits.’


There you are. Somebody said to me once, ‘make them laugh, and you’re half way there’. I’ve never really believed that, though. In my experience, if a woman likes you, she’ll laugh at any daft shite you come out with. This is good for me, as daft shite is like my second language.

‘So, I haven’t seen you in here before. You a book lover?’

Yes, daft shite like that.

‘Er, yes. This is a book shop, right?’

‘Er, yes of course.’

‘Have you read it?’

I looked at the book. ‘Yes. Yes, I have. It’s not my kind of thing, though.’


‘Yeah. Reading about alcoholic women who can’t get over a break up. It’s not really up my street, you know?’

‘So what is? Up your street, I mean?’

‘Well, a couple of shops. Mainly houses, ha.’

That thing I said before, about the signs a woman likes you, she’ll laugh at any daft shite you come out with?

I think I might have been wrong about that.

She didn’t laugh, but I think she sort of liked me, and I know I sort of liked her (shut up, Walter. You definitely liked her), but faced with the challenge of asking her out, it was kind if, my brain said ‘ah, you like this woman, so I am going to abandon you so you forget how to speak, and how to think, and how to move, and anything you do say will come across as idiotic.’

‘So, we can talk about it over a coffee if you’d like.’

Writing that, I made it sound as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I did not mention the devil-angel combination on my shoulders, swaying me back and forth until I noticed the lady looking at me while this back and forth conversation happened in my head, followed by a surge of adrenaline rushing through my body as I tried to get the courage to ask her the question.

I did it, though. It was out there.

While she digested this, our conversation was interrupted by the sound of muffled giggles behind me.

Ray and Ula.

‘Look if you’re asking me out for a joke,’ she said, ‘I don’t appreciate it.’

‘No, not at all. Ignore them, they’re idiots.’

‘They’ve been trained well, then.’

‘Ah, a woman with humour. You can’t beat it.’

‘What’s that meant to mean?’ She was smiling when she said this, so I took it as a flirt. How little I know.

‘I’ll let you know what I think of the book next time I’m in here. Might be a while, though.’

‘Ah, that’s okay. I look forward to it.’

And with that, she picked up the book, now in a bag, and turned and left the shop. Normally, a woman in a shop would be distracted by everything on the shelves, and browse around for a while, but not this one – it was target ‘door’ and ‘get me the hell out of here.’

‘Well, that was smooth.’ This was Ray, from behind me, still with a smile on his face, ‘it was like watching James Bond but, the Woody Allen version.’

‘Okay, I know. Everyone has to start somewhere, though.’

He came up to join me at the counter.

‘You missed a decent opportunity there, Walter. I have a couple of points, though.’


‘What was her name?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Did you get her number?’



‘So I doubt she’ll be back, then. You were too scared, Walter, and nervous.’

‘Yeah, I know. I just like, wanted to get started, you know? That’s the first time I’ve done anything like that for a long time.’

And, well, reader, yes it was, and despite what Ray and Ula think, I am a little bit proud of myself.

As they say, the longest journey starts with a single step, and I have made that step. I mean, okay, I made the step, tripped on a rock, fell flat on my face, and got some scratches on the way, but I didn’t die, the world didn’t end, and I got a micro inch further forward.

Why does it have to be so hard, though?


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