TERENCE: Before I met Hannah, I was nothing. A mere ‘smudge’, as she puts it. [HANNAH: This is true, obv, but way to make me sound like a total bitch.] I lived where the capital’s other smudges live – Zone 3. ‘North Ealing,’ I called it. Hannah called it ‘Peru’ because, when you can’t hear Big Ben, you’ve clearly left London. Smudges in Peru pass a quiet existence: a swim every Saturday, filter coffees on Sundays, a few rubbers of bridge once a month, perhaps a West End show at Christmas. [HANNAH: This paragraph breaks my heart. Terence was basically one of the spinsters in a Barbara Pym novel.]
Now I’m in Betts’s orbit, my life is a dazzling whirl, any social successes of my own attributed to stealing her friends. [HANNAH He totally steals my friends. I’d complain, but it’s actually rather convenient.] This applies even if I knew them before, her logic being that I never cultivated them properly. Sadly, this is true. Also true is that she is an Olympic-class pal-maker. Her skill is not so much in meeting people as in transforming strangers into friends; converting the try, if you will. Keen anthropologist, I observe her technique in the park. Structurally, she favours a seven-pronged approach. [HANNAH: I am aware that I come across as some sort of park weirdo/ adult groomer.] First, there’s the showing of genuine interest about their lives, then laughing raucously at some joke. There’ll be a little arm-touching to show intimacy, followed by surreptitiously noting down their name. Her small talk tends toward the disarmingly big, paving the way for an exchange of phone numbers so we can ‘reunite the hounds’. The odd informal text to demonstrate she’s thinking of them, and – Bob’s your uncle – BFFs.
I drop off around step two. Following an initial greeting, I use locating the dog’s ball as the pretext to stage a vanishing act. Leaving dinner parties, I often wonder whether the hosts debrief with: ‘Well, she’s a hoot, but [sotto voce] he’s a bit of an old stick.’ [HANNAH: Actually, I’m exhausting. I exhaust myself. Why do you think I drank? Think: closet introvert who feels obliged to do jazz hands]
However, now, after a lifetime’s aloofness, all this is set to change. On our recent jaunt to Italy, I discovered my social calling. Piccolo Mondo, Venice’s sole nightspot and afterhours drinking den, is up for sale! I mean, the castles in the air are building themselves. I could become a well-loved Venetian personality – Terenzio – the eccentric but charming Englishman, loved by all one and all. [HANNAH: I can confirm that this has already happened. Locals are petitioning him to stage a Piccolo Mondo takeover, as I type; not unrelated to the fact he’d cut the prices.] I’d moor a small yellow boat outside to ferry home the drunks, with Pimlico, our whippet, on its prow. Then a dawn espresso at Florian’s, while Pim chases pigeons in great loops around St Mark’s Square. Who’s a smudge now? Only problem is, I spreadsheet my alcohol consumption and like to be in bed by 10pm. Maybe Betts could handle frontof-house, and I could get up for the after-party?