It was probably mother’s passing at the age of 97: a welcome release, following three decades throughout which she had suffered from a widespread and crippling form of arthritis. Her physical pain, was compounded by the mental anguish, which accompanied the severe incontinence that further blighted the later stages of her life. The onset of an aggressive dementia in the last 6 months, meant that having to patiently explain to her what was causing (a) the pain and (b) the smell, became part of my daily routine.
As her main carer, I was, towards the end, tasked with replacing pads, with a greater frequency than England batsmen during an Ashes series. It was horribly unpleasant, depressing and of course, utterly humiliating and degrading.
There was inevitably a sense of relief for me too, in that it had finally put an end, to her constant nagging regarding my single status. Her embarrassing diatribe, regularly spilled over during post-church social situations, when she would frequently target me and cruelly question my sexuality. I was labelled a ‘freak’ and she openly commented, that I was ‘ad-normal’, compared to the sons and daughters of her peers.
It ended with great sadness and the guilt of knowing that I had come to hate this frail, confused, old woman, as much as I had loved the stylish, confident, young mother she had been. On reflection, this contradiction didn’t seem to make any sense at all.
If her loss hadn’t provided the main catalyst for my journey into the unknown, it must therefore have been the shock news, which brought my twenty year association with former classmate and best friend Rod Stone to an end. The previous 15 years had seen us meet, each and every Saturday night, at the ‘The Queens Head’ , in Little Marlow. There, we would occupy the same two wooden barstools and drink the same quantity of the same beer, served by the same friendly landlady.
The sale of the pub to a local brewery, resulted in her enforced retirement and just three days later, Rod dropped the bombshell, that he was to marry her replacement, a temporary manager, named Kimberley from Adelaide, who apparently hadn’t even begun to unpack her suitcase, at the time of his proposal.
To add insult to injury, his drunken ‘stag-night’ admission, of never having felt confident, or comfortable, speaking to women whilst in my company, had cut me to the quick. It left me feeling confused, hurt, angry and very isolated.
And so, with mother, cold in her oak coffin and the ‘happy couple’, warmly holding hands across the mahogany bar, I certainly had no intention of playing gooseberry and was left with no other option than to withdraw my custom and consider other forms of stimulation. Whilst it was true, that mother’s death had mercifully relieved me of the time-consuming and emotionally sapping responsibility, which had dominated my home-life, the loss of my solitary social outlet so soon afterwards, had left a gaping void in my life. My less demanding daily life, had somehow taken on the feeling of being all the more daunting with only myself for company. I wasn’t at all comfortable, spending time alone with the man in the mirror.
The specific catalyst for change, does however, now seem irrelevant. What is clear, is that during the course of a cider-fuelled evening in October of that year, I had bitten the bullet and decided to step outside of my barren comfort zone. I was to venture into the unknown, a frightening and mysterious virtual place called Findamate.com. With Tesco credit-card resting against my ageing beige keyboard, I painfully negotiated page after page of ‘essential’ personal profile information, until just one tick box remained ‘I ACCEPT THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS’.
As my sweating right forefinger hit the ‘return’ key, I acknowledged that this was indeed a seminal moment, ironically, a point of no return, as ‘Richard Fotheringham’ was effectively jettisoned from my body, to be replaced in an electronic instant by ‘Marlow Man’. His mission could not be more straightforward. He was required to identify a life partner within a ten mile radius of Marlow Bottom. If she held a driving licence and was prepared to travel, ten could conceivably be stretched to twenty, but with rising diesel prices to consider, I was determined that this should not extend to thirty.
After much deliberation, I had reluctantly decided against the inclusion of the term ‘Bottom’ in my username. After all, ‘Marlow Bottom Man’ was open to misinterpretation, and could easily have added weight to some of my late mother’s ill-founded beliefs, as well as potentially incurring the wrath of those modern women, obsessed with political correctness.
‘Marlow Man’ had existed for many years in my mind, like the big brother I didn’t have. He was suave, sophisticated and assured; confidently holding court, with local businessmen and land-owners in the main bar of the Queens Head, an area Fotheringham didn’t dare venture into, from the spit and sawdust in which he felt comfortable.
Women would hang onto the every word of this ‘love-guru’ as he painted a picture of supreme knowledge, emotional maturity and security. He exuded confidence and sexuality and when he walked into a room, everything seemed a little brighter to those around. This man could influence opinion, provide guidance and re-assure young and old alike. More importantly however, he was capable of finding a partner at the drop of his stylish hat.
‘Marlow Man’ was to be presented as a 36 year old…an acceptable reduction of five years from my actual age and applied to reflect my excellent genes. ‘Athletic and toned’ was surely achievable within a few weeks, and any current excess flab could be be put down to the comfort eating, brought on by the stress surrounding my mother’s relatively recent passing . Nominated ‘Best Feature’ had to be my blue eyes, which the dearly departed had warned would bring “great trouble one day”. ‘Height’ 5’10”, for which a Cuban heel would unfortunately be required. This was a necessary evil, if I was going to appeal, to the type of the skyscraper-heeled blonde, I had regularly seen striding along West Street en-route to Clayton’s Lounge.
His stated ‘interests’ included all sports, theatre, salsa dancing, museums, festivals and fine dining, although his knowledge of the latter was based almost entirely on trips to Nandos for Christmas work functions and his teenage nephew’s birthday parties.
This specimen was designed to be attractive to women on every level, irrespective of hair colour, age, body shape, profession, religion, race or income. And so… I…. aka ’Marlow Man’… was ready now…. as I knew I had been, for many, many years