Chapter 1:
Life Before Heidi


"One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless."

Proverbs 14:16

Around a decade ago, after ten years of marriage I got divorced. It was a perfectly amicable break-up and divorce. With hindsight, I can't complain about the marriage as it gave me my lad, even if whilst still in the marriage I'd have gladly left first had she not beaten me to it. The first Mrs Ross and I had simply come to the end of the road and, modern times being what they are, we decided on a parting of the ways when our son was too young to be affected by his parents' break-up. I was living in Birmingham whilst married and commuting to Northampton. I'd been in the same role a few years and the company had just been awarded a significant contract extension, so I moved to a small two-hundred and fifty cottage in a converted barn in a fairly large village just outside Northampton itself. It sounds grand, but it's a two up, two down with a commanding view of the neighbour's wheelie bins. I was starting again and life would get back on track.

The plan was to live the bachelor life I had yearned for as a married man. I'd watch sport, play snooker, drink beer and dance the nights away with inappropriate women. That was the plan, but eventually the grass wasn't greener after all.  I'd done the right thing divorcing, but the lifestyle I'd fallen into wasn't what I wanted. The desire for a grown up change, the need to stop acting like I was young again was a gradual process, leading up to a sudden realisation that I wanted change. Not quite an epiphany, but not far off it.

On another non-discript night, I thought I was successfully chatting up a young blonde woman in Chicagos, the night club of choice for a town with only one nightclub. She was nearly wearing a LBD and, whilst it is every woman's right wear what she pleases, she should not have believed the shop assistant when she was told she looked great squeezed into a size ten. It was all I could do to maintain eye contact, not due to her obvious augmentation, but because it appeared that she'd had her eye make-up applied by the artiste who serviced Elizabeth Taylor on "Anthony and Cleopatra" and still kept her hand in fifty years later despite her double cataracts and arthritic hands. Having been told for the umpteenth time I was a good listener and not like the other losers in here, it struck me that perhaps she didn't fancy me. Perhaps I just reminded the girl of her father whom she had forgotten how to talk to. That and I was paying. A peck on the cheek and a cheery "you're lovely" as she swayed across the lovely carpet en-route to the dance floor confirmed it.

A few weeks later I was out with a friend, once again queuing outside Northampton's premier and only nightclub when I commentated that perhaps the female clubbers might consider wearing coats, it being Winter and all. The considered norm on such occasions, I was told by Goose in no uncertain terms, was to stop being an idiot, I shouldn't oppress any young lady with my mysoginistic view point, which he quailified with a comment regarding the feminist's choice and something about his own jacket, coat pegs and the cloak room function applied to said young women of a certain age, many years less than mine. Not quite what Germaine Greer had in mind, I suspect, but my mate had a point I suppose. About free choice, that is, not frozen boobies.

These anecdotes illustrate how perhaps my heart wasn't really in attempting to be a playboy in downtown Northampton. I once saw a film called "The 13th Warrior". Nobody else did, it bombed. In this fine example of Hollywood being true to history, Antonio Banderas plays an Arab ambassador in 922AD who is exiled and has to live with the Norse. Nope. No idea either, but bear with me. I strongly suspect it was pitched during the studio's Christmas office party. Anyway, there's a scene when all of a sudden Our Tony understands the Norse tongue and reconnects with the world he finds himself living in. That's the closest I can explain what happened to me. I was in a new world, with new rules and they were overwhelming me. I was lost and going through the motions, living how I thought a newly divorced man-about-town was supposed to. Time for another change, I realised. Gulp.

So I changed job, working in Luton within a subsidiary of a larger group and threw myself into work. Eighteen months later I was head-hunted by two rivals who had merged and wanted an IT Director to integrate two IT Departments. I was work, work, work and it had its perks. I had a corner office in London's West End. Now I'm usually self-deprecating, but sod it. A corner office. In the West End. Of London. My office overlooked BBC Radio One. It overlooked the Polish embassy before Poland became integrated into the United Kingdom. My local sarnie bar was where then Radio One Breakfast Show host Chris Moyles bought breakfast. Or one of them at least. Our office local was the Horse & Groom. It was also Radio One's local. I once had a tipsy argument in the bogs about Manchester United's inability to retain Manchester-born fans with a gentleman who you may now see regularly on Match of Day 2 most Sunday evenings and used to be a mate of Sarah Cox. The upshot was that professionally I was back. My private life? That was another matter.

 

Loneliness, true loneliness, is a terrible thing. Unless you've experienced it you really won't understand what I am going on about. When I wasn't working late, I'd get home each night and just sit. I'd be too tired to do much, but that aside, there was no-one to talk to, no-one to nag me about taking the bins out or not taking tonight's dinner out of the freezer this morning. One of the less advertised side-effects of a divorce is the sudden space you longed for isn't actually very nice or that desirable. You're supposed to enjoy it, but I frankly didn't.

Throughout this time I'd dated a few women, but somehow never connected with anyone enough to want to be with them when they weren't there. An old friend suggested internet dating and, with a distinct feeling of uneasiness and a resolve to not end up on Jeremy Kyle one day, I signed up for a couple of sites. I didn't "meet" anyone enough to want to take things beyond online, but I was introduced to the concept of online chat rooms. Now, I suspect you're currently having the same reaction I had: pevert, it's the virtual version of the last days of Rome. Honestly? That was about if you wanted it, but most people on there were like me:  lonely, bored, trapped. Whatever the reason for being there, it was all perfectly normal. I will cling to this assignation for the purposes of a plot device, along with the fact it's true.

After a few weeks of talking online, I started chatting to a woman from Ipswich. She was thirty (six years younger than me), trapped in negative equity with her ex- and chatted online to not have to interact with him. Apparently, he'd asked her to marry her after fifteen years of being together and she'd decided that, actually no, she didn't even want to be a couple anymore. I realised one day that when I logged on I sought her out immediately, or vice versa, and as we chatted we appeared to genuinely get to know each other better. We were able to be totally honest and say things to each other that needed saying to someone. One night's chat we suddenly realised we didn't know what each other looked like. Picture swaps ensued. No, normal ones idiot. I thought she was gorgeous and very, very glamorous. She was a brunette with sparkling eyes and a smile that lit up the room. The pigtails helped. The snap was from a night out with her mates, a hen-do as I recall. She liked my picture and we agreed that perhaps it was worth looking for more than friendship here. Suffice to say we swapped numbers, chatted for hours on end and soon arranged to meet up in Woodbridge, Suffolk. My father's from there, so it wasn't a complete leap of faith me to travel all that way to meet someone I'd never actually met in person. And I felt like I'd know here for years, anyway.

So who was the woman who had captivated me so much? It was Heidi.