I had only been with Bryony for an hour or so, but the situation had already deteriorated. We were in Notting Hill on our second, and quite possibly last, date. She wanted to go to Portobello market. Usually, I avoided such territory - I knew I would be expected to engage in horseplay, potentially trying on a variety of hats in an amusing manner. I pictured myself wearing a trilby at a jaunty angle and winced - it was 'Sleeping with the Enemy', and I was the guy with the beard.
Portobello market was not my kind of place, I was frankly uncomfortable amongst the bric-a-brac and organic fare. It was a middle-class Mecca and I was outside the gates. Nevertheless, from the outset I felt compelled to remark favourably on every stall, regardless of its individual merit.
"Look," I said pointing to a battered biscuit tin, "that looks good."
"Yes, very retro."
Bryony picked it up.
"Vintage," I said.
We both looked at the tin.
Realising I had nothing more to add, I picked up an old White Ensign - the flag of the Royal Navy.
I asked the trader, "how much for this, mate?"
"Let me see, that one is thirty-five."
I nodded sagely. Turning to Bryony, I said:
"I used to be in the navy, you know."
"Yes, you said."
She was still looking down at the tin.
Things were not going well - time to try something radical. Looking around I found the perfect prop - a tattered army jacket. As Bryony leafed through a rack of old maps, I hurriedly donned the coat.
"Look," I said, my arms outstretched.
She turned, her fingers holding her place.
"What the hell?"
"It's just a laugh," I said, walking over.
The tight jacket had pulled my arms back, giving me a gorilla-like poise.
"What's wrong, Bry?"
She forced a smile.
"It's ok," she said, "it's just I'm pretty sensitive about that kind of thing. I don't find it funny, you know?"
I looked down at the jacket and noticed the emblem on the sleeve, a jagged 'SS'.
"A Nazi uniform? I mean, come on."
"God, I didn't realise..."
She raised her eyebrows.
"Well, it didn't do Harry any harm."
The trader came over and touched me on the arm.
"Come on mate," he said, "this ain't a fancy dress party."
As I peeled myself out of the coat two Japanese girls took my picture.
Great, I thought, I am to be immortalised on Instagram as a fascist sympathiser.
We retreated to the pub for lunch - at last, familiar ground. We took a table beneath the TV, the football was on and we sat with a dozen raucous men facing us. I looked at the menu but nothing appealed. Still, I opted for the steak sandwich. Bryony chose the gammon and chips, it came with a slice of pineapple.
"My god," I said, "they still do that? Reminds me of Sunday nights as a child in front of Bullseye."
She pretended not to know the reference. The barman turned the sound up on the TV as more people came to watch the game.
Bryony said, "this place is fab, I always come here when I've been to the market."
I glanced at the worn fittings and photos of Victorian London.
"So tell me," she said, "if you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?"
I looked down at my plate.
"Not sure," I said, "you go first."
She spoke extensively about setting up a fund for injured animals.
"That's amazing," I said, "so you'd get your brother to help out? Great idea."
"How about you?" she said, poking the ice in her drink with a straw.
"Oh, who knows. I'd probably be dead within a year."
She stabbed an ice-cube, "how charming."
I shovelled a couple of chunky chips into my mouth; the roar of the football seemed to be growing louder. My mind started to wander; I was contemplating my Sunday chores when a camera flash drew me back. Bryony had just photographed her untouched gammon.
"Why are you doing that?" I asked.
She shrugged: "for my wall. You're right, it's really weird. I mean gammon and pineapple, kind of ironic really."
I put my cutlery down.
"How can gammon be ironic?"
But she ignored me. Not long after, we walked back to the station in silence, on parting Bryony asked:
"What are you up to this evening?"
"I've got to put a wash on. Maybe a bit of ironing."
She rolled her eyes.
I smiled but what could I say? Compared to this - it did.
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