The Unreliable Placebo

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Chapter 7 Internet Date No 2 - Ebden Andrews

MY MOTHER’S been on the phone wanting to know how my separation’s going. What she really means is: have I found a replacement Arsehole yet? If not, what am I doing about it? No one’s getting any younger. Have I seen that nice Dennis man again and I tell her I have. I can clearly hear her face light up over the telephone wire.

“So what happened? Are you seeing him again?”

“It wasn’t that sort of seeing. I was out with someone else and so was he and our paths happened to cross, that’s all.”

“Oh. Well did you speak? What did he say? Did he still look interested?”

“Mum, I didn’t say he was interested the first time. He likes opera apparently and he was with someone and they’d been to see an opera ‒ or at least a film of an opera,” I rush to say, as she’d be confused otherwise as there is no known opera house in my part of Essex unless you count amateur opera and I certainly wouldn’t.

“Well, there’s something you have in common!” says my mum.

“No we don’t!”

“You had a nice voice when you were a little girl but you wouldn’t take it seriously. You’d sing a few lines nicely and then you’d start howling like a dog or caterwauling.”

“Well that was probably because I couldn’t reach the high notes.”

“Rubbish. You could have been a classical singer yourself. And a doctor and a good artist, but you’d never take anything seriously. You’d just send everything up. All the time!”

“Mum, I have to go out so I’ll have to say goodbye now. Goodbye.” And I hang up before she has a chance to protest and then take the land line off the hook and turn off my smartphone. It does my ego no good at all when she starts on me like this. She makes me feel like a total failure. And it reminds me of what the Arsehole said about me. It’s not fair. As though all the effort necessary to become a solicitor is completely meaningless. Though in fact being a solicitor is largely meaningless these days.

I feel like punishing them both by setting them up to meet each other some time without their prior knowledge (because forewarning would scare them off entirely). Once they got into a suitable groove, they could rant about me for days on end, compare notes on my many inadequacies and obvious faults, they could verbally tear me apart, they could between them justify one hundred per cent the Arsehole having left me. I feel very sorry for myself and start to cry. It goes on for some time.

Eventually I mop up the last of the tears and start to feel more positive. Stuff the pair of them. All the same it would be nice to have someone to love again. I’ve decided I don’t love the Arsehole any more after seeing him. I hadn’t realised what a mean-looking weasel of a vermin he is. I think he looks shifty and untrustworthy and not really handsome at all. I used to think he was handsome but his features have become more pointed as he’s lost a bit of weight. In fact he doesn’t look as muscular as he did before he left. No doubt he and the Backside haven’t had the time to go to the gym much; they’ll have been too busy shagging each other. Stuff them too, I mutter, as I set up my laptop, pour myself a large glass of Baileys and decide to check the dating website.

While it’s opening, I reflect that I’ve recovered a lot more quickly and painlessly from the Arsehole leaving me than I might have. I once read an account of a woman who’d been married for decades and had been almost mortally affected by her husband’s adultery. The couple didn’t separate for various practical reasons and the adultery finished. Her account said that, like a small animal, after she found out she just carried on as before, trying to have a ‘normal’ marriage. But she found that she simply didn’t get over it. She continued to have hysterics and eventually told herself that she was going to have to devise a way to force herself to get over it and what she hit on was simple really. She decided to make herself not love her husband any more. And apparently it worked. She rearranged her emotions and stopped having physical contact with him, the latter of which was by her account a prolonged process and one he found difficult to accept but ultimately he did. So they now have this sterile marriage with obvious tensions as he’d still like to have all the usual perks of marriage but isn’t able to.

I think I’m lucky. I’ve got through this process to the point of falling out of love with the Arsehole without having to do any mental gymnastics. I’m still angry at having had my life changed for good and my circumstances upended without any consultation whatever, but I can put up with that. I’m glad he left and didn’t hang around to provide a constant source of torment and slow down any recovery.

The dating site is now open, displayed before me. Once again, I’m poleaxed by the number and variety of men who’d like to meet me. Maybe I should try a few speed dating sessions instead. This business of going through men one by one on separate evenings is so time-consuming and long-winded. I can’t decide, and in desperation I try the dartboard approach. Apparently it works for investors just as well as spending lifetimes learning about economics and reading the financial press. Better in fact. So I scroll up and down and up and down haphazardly and suddenly stop with the intention that whoever is highlighted, I’ll contact him and that’ll be that.

So this I do, expand the selection and read about him. He says he’s five foot eleven, brown haired, aged thirty-seven, divorced. He gives some average sounding hobbies and his job in the category of ‘professional’. He lives near the next County town. That’s all there is to go on. No photo. There’s the name ‘Ollie’ though he says it’s a nickname. I send a short message saying how about going out for a meal (just going out for drinks hasn’t served me well so far) and then switch off quickly. I don’t want to know any more. I’ve had enough for tonight.

I get ready for bed and a nice read of my current book, Gone Girl. I’m liking it so far and trying not to compare its initial detailed examination of the breakdown of a marriage too closely to my own circumstances. Anyway I’ve got beyond that bit now to the possible substance of the thing, but we’ll see. As ever and somewhat ironically if I’m liking a book or something on TV, I fall asleep so much more quickly than if it’s all very tedious.

Half a page later I’m reaching for the bedside table lamp switch to kill the light, imagining two strong male arms around me (more would be a bit odd) and before I know it, it’s ‒ I peer blearily at the bedside clock display ‒ it’s two am and I know I won’t be able to go to sleep now for another two hours. There’s only one thing for it.

I pad downstairs and fire up the laptop again. I go on the website and check for messages. There’s one about fifteen minutes ago from Ollie suggesting meeting in an Indian restaurant on the back road running from the town he lives near to the town I live near, though nearer to mine. He gives a number of possible evenings next week. I like Indian food and reply to agree to the Tuesday evening, say about seven-thirty. Almost immediately he responds that he’ll book the table then. He’s already established online that it’s not fully booked next Tuesday.

I trundle up the stairs again. I have a date. I still don’t know much more about this Ollie, except that he likes Indian food and can’t sleep at nights either. It sounds like ‘Sleepless in Seattle’. I like that film but I really like the other one with the same leads, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, ‘You’ve Got Mail’. So romantic. I always cry at the end, especially when that wonderful Nilsson song comes on. I should be done with crying over sad and/or romantic films but seemingly not. I’m glad actually that my experiences with the Arsehole haven’t extracted every ounce of emotion from me and made me into a hardened old harridan. I glance at the mirror before falling into bed and I’m afraid the face that stares back at me is as gullible and credulous as ever. Some things will never change.

More impressions of strong, loving male arms envelope and comfort me. I fall asleep and don’t wake again until the more civilised hour of eight in the morning. Which is in fact far too late as I’m booked to go on a seminar today and it takes two hours to drive there and registration starts at nine-fifteen. It doesn’t matter that much as the first talk is by one of the sponsors. The main thing is that I’ll miss the coffee and Danish pastries if I’m too late. Then I’ll feel faint and won’t be able to concentrate until the time for elevenses and more coffee and disappointingly just bourbon biscuits, though sometimes you get those chewy butter-laden double chocolate cookies instead. I decide I don’t care if I miss the breakfast pastries as I’m still in slimming mode. I take a couple of aspirins and drink a load of water which usually sharpens me up.

I KNOW EXACTLY where the Indian restaurant is therefore I don’t have to take any directions off the internet. Before it was taken over by the present lot, it used to be a pub that served food and I’ve been there in the past for people’s parties and firm do’s. I go in, look around and see that it’s had a reverse makeover. Funny really. All the old pubs are busy ditching their flock wallpaper and dark painted woodwork in favour of plain emulsioned walls, pastel colours, tasteful roman blinds and inlaid ceiling lights.

This place by contrast is a riot of patterned velvety damask wall covering, bright maroon woodwork, festoon curtains with gold thread running through the material and tinselly light fittings. In fact in some places there’s actual tinsel framing the paintings on the walls, bright, garish representations of Hindu men and women wooing each other, clothed in primary colours. Perhaps this should therefore be called a make-under. Or a make-overdone. At each end of the room there’s a high-level TV churning out a Bollywood musical though the sound level is quite low, not enough to be distracting. However if the conversation falters and the evening turns into a wet rag, it’ll be something to focus on to get through it until going home time.

My observations are cut short. Further into the room, which I note is quite full already, I see a man stand up and give me a light wave. I have to appreciate the fact that, while I have no idea what my date looks like, he’s obviously been able to tag me from my five-year-old photo on the dating website. I should be flattered that I can still be recognised from a half-decade-old image of me in a bar in some foreign resort raising a glass to the camera of my mate Alice on her hen weekend before she tied the knot. While the rest of us were merry as kites at the time, she, being four months’ pregnant and having determined to do the decent thing by the baby and its father, was stone cold sober while her friends toasted the forthcoming nuptials and subsequent birth. Hence the photograph was in focus and not at some crazy angle, like taken from a recumbent position on the floor as were some of the other photos taken by the rest of us.

Unless of course it isn’t my date at all and is another person also possibly meeting someone for the first time who has mistaken me for his date. I’m sure this must happen sometimes, so that the hopelessly unmatched couple spend the evening talking at total cross-purposes but realise by the end of the evening that they were actually created for each other. They walk off hand-in-hand into their bright and sunny future, and hang the fact that their actual intended dates have somehow pitched up at the wrong Indian restaurant and are even now stabbing at an innocent piece of meat with the pointed steak knife, intoning dark incantations based on old Hindu legends against the party who failed to turn up. Though in that case of course they’d actually be at the right restaurant but with the wrong person and who knows, they might be hitting it off too.

These daydreams get me to the table and I smile nicely, pull out my chair and sit down. Unlike Dennis, this man doesn’t rush around to my side of the table and extract my chair for me. I shouldn’t I know compare every man I come across to Dennis. But I have to say he was a high bar to surpass. I know almost with certainty that had it rained while we were in the local pub that first night leaving puddles in the car park, that he would have whipped off his jacket and placed it precisely for my ultra-high heels to teeter over and not left me to unsuspectingly negotiate the water filled dips and troughs of the average pub car park on my own.

OK, so perhaps sixteenth century cloaks were a bit more robust than mens’ jackets today but you get my drift. Nonetheless it has to be said that this man opposite me tonight remains standing until I have parked myself firmly on my chair, a rare enough tribute in this day and age when rampant feminism has chased almost every gallant bone from the bodies of men trying to somehow or other behave correctly and not unwittingly cause some form of offence.

We introduce ourselves. He stands again to shake my hand. This man has a pronounced Scottish accent, unmistakable at three hundred paces let alone across a restaurant table. He looks tough and well muscled and yet rather gentle and kindly with crinkles at the edges of his eyes and I find that I warm to him. He does have a large plaster on the left side of his forehead that extends down the side of his face to eye level, partly obscuring the crinkles on that side. I wonder how he got whatever injury’s underneath the plaster. Still, he is wearing leathers so perhaps he rides a motorbike which could result in injuries sometimes, in fact probably quite often, and account for the plaster.

We order our food and drinks for a kick-off and busy ourselves with serving out the dishes, which arrive spectacularly quickly, and heaping chutneys, relishes and raita onto our plates. I sample these accompaniments and they’re divine.

“So you’re a solicitor, Anna,” Ollie says smiling at me. Well at least the word solicitor doesn’t figure to him as the Antichrist as it seems to do to so many divorced men. I like him. I shan’t tell him I used to do matrimonial work and litigate the balls off married men, though of course if he’s been on the firm’s website and read my profile, he’ll know this already. Oh, I think, I do so hope he isn’t an actual husband, or even a friend of a husband for whose wife I acted in the past, come to extract his revenge against the solicitor who robbed him or his friend of all his worldly goods.

I’m not sure of the actual stats, but I feel confident that I’ve acted for as many wronged husbands as I have for wronged wives. I don’t feel that I have especially supplied legal services to women in these situations more so than to men.

I decide that I shouldn’t be so defensive. I’ve as much right to earn a living in my chosen field as the next man or woman. In fact, there are parts of the world that actually purposely come to England to litigate their disputes, expecting that in England they’ll get a fair hearing, that the judges are free of corruption, that the decisions will be sound. They write their contracts under English law with this in mind. They actually remove their businesses and head offices to London so that they can take advantage of our judicial system. It apparently earns a huge amount of foreign currency for the country.

I should be proud of this income-producing export for our country, that other countries envy our legal system and want their disputes fought by English lawyers and determined by English judges. I wonder, fleetingly, whether Dennis has ever had to attempt to determine a dispute between a Russian owner of London property, say, and English leaseholders. Probably not. I decide that my eternal musings have gone as far as they should tonight and that I ought to focus on the here and now.

“Yes. For my sins,” I smile in reply. “So. You say you’re a professional. But a professional what exactly?”

“OK. I’m a professional cage fighter.”

“Sorry. I’m still not clear about that.”

“I, and my opponent, go into a cage and … it’s locked and … we fight to the death. More or less!”

“But … but … aren’t there laws and things about…”

“S’posed to be. But what of it?”

“Oh, God,” I say.

“Exactly,” he says, still smiling.

It seems to me like the human equivalent of an illegal dog fight, where seedy-looking characters peel off notes from a huge wad to bet on one dog or another. Where the poor creature who’s defeated gets carted away in bits in a bin bag. Though I can’t see this Ollie fitting into a bin bag.

Cockfighting’s another of these horrible spectacles. Poor ragged little creatures dying on their feet, egged on by baying men wanting a quick, cheap thrill.

“But is it legal?”

“Well it’s regulated. But then so’s your profession and I imagine there are those that step outside the proper boundaries from time to time.”

“Actually, there are a huge number if the reports of disciplinary proceedings are anything to go by.” I find I’m really interested in what he does and want to ask if it’s very lucrative, although that seems rather rude so I just ask if there’s enough work to keep him fully occupied.

“More than enough but it means moving around a lot. The fights are all over the place. I got sick of hotels so I bought a Winnebago…” I frown. I’m not sure immediately what a Winnebago is.

“A Winnebago’s a motorised caravan.” Oh yes, I nod. I remember now.

“…but the missus didn’t like selling the house and living in one of those. She buggered off with a police officer who covered one of our less well-ordered fights. But at least he made sure I didn’t get charged with anything.”

“Oh dear,” I say. “That’s unfortunate. Depending of course on your angle. Do you still live in your caravan? I didn’t notice any living-accommodation-sized vehicles in the car park.”

“Yes, but it’s parked at a friend’s and I tow a small car around with me. But I’ve also got a buy-to-let for later.”

“I see. Very sensible. I suppose you couldn’t be a fighter forever.”

“No. It gets harder every year. When I get to forty which won’t be long, I’m going to join a mate of mine with a bar in Thailand. We plan to expand the business and I may settle there. It’s a beautiful country. Lots of Brits retire there you know.”

Yes I think. And drink and smoke themselves to death too from what one sees on TV documentaries and the like. But:

“Sounds idyllic,” I say. The evening is just rocketing by. I’ve almost finished my food and so has Ollie. I never fancy the puddings on offer in Indian restaurants so I wonder what we’ll do next. Apart from look at the films showing at each end of the room.

Ollie excuses himself to go to the loo. I watch the cavorting of the Hindu dancers on the elevated screen in front of me and try to ignore the loud and raucous banter from a table somewhere behind me. A group of men came in some time ago and the noise they’ve been making has been steadily ratcheting up since then.

Ollie returns and sits down. “I’m going to drive to Thailand in the Winny. It’ll be great. That’s why I’ve gone on the dating website. It’ll be a fantastic experience. I want to share it with someone.” He’s looking at me keenly.

“A real adventure!” I say. “It makes my desk-bound existence seems dull and boring.”

Which of course it is, though I can’t see myself throwing everything up in the air to go off half way around the world in a motorised caravan. It has a definite romantic appeal but I reckon you’d have to be madly in love with someone to suddenly take off like that. I hope Ollie doesn’t regard me as a serious contender but his eyes are boring into me making me feel quite uncomfortable. I feel I need to make my position clear. I’m no good at lying or stringing people along.

“Ollie, I truly hope you can find someone who’s interested in doing something like that. Someone intrepid maybe. Who’s totally pissed off with their current existence.” I warm to the theme. “A person who’s already primed to leap in and grab such a caper by the castanets‒”

“Castanets,” says Ollie staring at me.


“You said ‘castanets’ just now.”

“Well, yes.” Now I’m confused.

“Anna. You haven’t been to the Ladies yet have you.”

“No, but‒”

“Well perhaps you should.”

I start to worry that I accidentally tucked my skirt into my knickers before leaving home and he’s only just somehow noticed. Or that my makeup’s run. Or that I’ve had some sort of allergic reaction to the food and come out in hives all over my face.

Or that I’ve somehow managed to arrange a date with a weirdo who can only behave reasonably for a limited time and then it all goes to shit all of a sudden. I decide that a trip to the loo might be the best course of action in the circumstances and therefore get up out of my chair while pulling as discreetly as possible at the back of my skirt.

“Good advice I’m sure,” I say to humour him and walk off towards the ‘Toilets’ sign at the back of the restaurant.

Once safely inside the Ladies, I make a thorough inspection of my face and clothing but I fail to find anything especially out of place. I decide to use the facilities anyway and it’s only as I emerge from the cubicle that I notice the A4-sized poster taped to the wall above a sheet saying that the toilet was last inspected by Rani at eleven this morning.

‘HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WOMAN?’ The words scream at me out of the poster. Further down is the caption:


My blood freezes in my veins. I look with horror at a photograph between the two lines of writing, the image of a woman gurning without artifice into the camera, a shot taken at my brother’s wedding when I was many sails to the wind. The photo is grainy but recognisable.

My brain stops there and then and I realise that Ollie must have seen the same poster in the Gents which is why he was staring at me and picked up on the word ‘castanets’, innocently uttered by me at the time. I steel myself and move closer to the poster to read the small print at the bottom. It refers to Ebden Andrews having been attacked by the woman in the photograph and seriously injured earlier in the year. He obviously has no shame. It says that he only had one functioning testicle at the time and this was injured so badly in the attack that it had to be amputated. He wishes to locate the woman to pursue a claim against her for his loss. It gives a mobile number.

My brain starts functioning again and I wonder how he got hold of a photo of me when he doesn’t apparently even know my name. Apart from that fact, I would have put money on my mother having supplied the photo. I asked the police at the time to ensure that they withheld my identity and they obviously kept their promise.

The second thing I speculate about is how many Goddamn restaurant and other toilets all over town are bearing the same poster, not to mention lampposts, fences, community hall notice boards. The list is endless. Tomorrow I’ll have to scour the town during my lunch hour and ring round my friends and see if anyone else has seen the poster. It looks frankly amateurish so hopefully there’s a limit to how many he could have produced and found time to display. My imagination goes into overdrive, though, as it occurs to me that anyone could print any number of small flyers and simply cast them about on pavements all over the town. Perhaps he has a large family and they’ll all have been roped into the effort.

I clutch at the sink and feel weak. Nevertheless, I realise I’ve been in here some time. I have to go out and get through the rest of my evening with Ollie somehow. I rip the poster off the wall and, pushing open the door, I see Ollie loitering outside looking worried. He’s obviously come to check up on me. I take it all back Ollie, I think. You’re sweet and kind and not at all weird.

“Are you all right, hen?” he says.

“I suppose so. It’s not true, Ollie. I didn’t attack him. I was out running and he attacked me and I just automatically kicked out at him. I’m just so worried now that he’ll have plastered those posters all over town. At least he doesn’t seem to know my name.”

He pats my shoulder in an avuncular manner. “Well, maybe not. I’ve removed the one in the Gents. Come on anyway. Let’s go back and finish the wine off.”

I go first and he walks behind me into the restaurant. We’re almost back at the table when someone shouts:

“That’s her. It’s her!”

And a man launches himself out of his chair at a table nearer the door. It’s the table making all the noise. His mates look up at him. He starts towards our table yelling:

“She did it. You did it. You ruined my life! I was just out looking for a neighbour’s dog and you kicked me in the nuts for no reason at all. I’m going to give an interview to the Standard tomorrow. Your reputation’ll be in ruins, whatever your name is. Your photo’ll be in the papers all over Essex next week. You bloody mangled my bollocks, you bitch.” He rushes at me.

I just stand there open mouthed. It’s Ebden Andrews all right. I back away. Ollie quickly places himself between me and Ebden.

“You just try it,” Ollie says. If Ebden ever had any sense, it was obviously all stored in the gonad he lost last summer because he squares up to Ollie who laughs out loud.

Two of Ebden’s mates come over and hold him back. “Don’t be such a pillock,” one says. But a fourth man, he could be a brother of Ebden, comes at Ollie instead. Seriously this time. I’ve never seen a fist come out, deliver a colossal blow and be withdrawn quite so quickly. At least not in the flesh. Ollie barely draws breath. The brother is suddenly on the floor out cold.

“You stay away from her mate,” says Ollie to Ebden, “You leave her alone and get rid of those posters. Wherever you’ve put them. Or you’ll have me to answer to.

“Come on. Get your bag,” Ollie says to me as the brother starts to groan and come round. He takes my arm and hustles me towards the door. At the till, he pulls out a wad of notes and puts them on the counter. “Keep the change,” he says and suddenly we’re out in the cold night air. It sharpens me up considerably.

“I should have been stronger and had the bastard charged at the time,” I tell Ollie. “Thanks for that. I don’t know what I’d have done without you. I’d never even have known about the posters if I hadn’t met you tonight.”

“I reckon we’d better get away from here as quickly as possible. Just in case,” Ollie says. He walks me to my car and stands looking down at me with interest. I mean, he wasn’t ever going to be my ideal date anyway, someone who refers to his ex-wife as ‘the missus’, but I’d still rather it didn’t end up with me being the one to be ditched for unsuitability, not him. It just doesn’t seem fair.

“Well, love,” he says, “I’ve been out with some birds but this beats them all. If you’ll pardon the pun, you’re obviously a game bird but ‒ no offence intended ‒ I prefer my women a bit softer and less dangerous. Take a tip from me, hen, someone who knows about unintentionally causing serious injury. Take a look at your buildings and contents policies. You’ll often find one of them includes legal expenses insurance. Bye, Anna. Nice meeting you.”

He walks off to his car and gets into it as I get into mine. We exchange a wave as we drive to the exit and go off in different directions.

His parting shot may well turn out to be good advice!

I POUR myself a glass of wine on getting back home and sit peering into it. I convince myself that the posters will be everywhere, that everyone I know, and many thousands I don’t, will have seen them and that, within a short time, Ebden will have my name and details. For my lack of courage at that time last summer, I’m to be hunted down and pursued for compensation on top of which everyone will know about the episode. So I’ve gained nothing and potentially lost a great deal. I cast my mind back to last August and for the moment my immediate surroundings evaporate.

I TRY to keep in shape. It’s only sensible. You can’t rely entirely on diet and I tend to yo-yo anyway so I believe that regular exercise helps me to avoid the worst of the peaks and troughs, that is the bloated whale periods versus the so-skinny-and-pale-and-frail-that-I-appear-to-be-at-death’s-door episodes. I have to say that the latter appear less and less as the years pile on. Mostly it’s the pounds that pile on now.

The Arsehole used to chide me for going off out on five mile runs on remote country roads and bridleways. He said it was dangerous. One day some maniac might be lurking in the hegderow and pounce on me, have his way and, in the manner of rapists, then selfishly strangle me so that I wouldn’t be able to identify him, though of course they almost always get hoist by their own miserable DNA in the end. I don’t think many rapists wear examination gloves and forensic suits. If someone thus togged up were to hove into view on a country road, I think you might run in the opposite direction too fast to be apprehended by them. I don’t think you’d stay around to find out why they were so attired. And as for the would-be assailant stopping to apply a condom, I imagine would that be out of the question.

Though at the time I thought it was sweet of the Arsehole to care, I used to poo-poo his worries, brush aside his predictions, don my trainers and go off out anyway and I continued to do so after he left me. Our country lanes round about where I live seem so safe and peaceful. One couldn’t imagine a horrible sex crime followed by brutal murder being enacted on these pleasant byways.

I don’t much read the local news rags. I buy them weekly, throw them down on the floor next to the settee and then never pick them up again. I was vaguely aware that girls had been getting attacked in the area, but I didn’t associate it with myself or my village.

On that particular night, not long after the Arsehole left, I’d run three and a half miles and was on my way back. I decided to take a shortcut along Hundred Lane. Though tarmacked, it’s not really passable by cars, being too narrow and overhung by thorny hedges on either side. The evening was calm and still and quiet. Having run three and a half miles, I was fairly pumped up. I’d overcome what the Arsehole used to refer to as ‘the pain barrier’ (“Come on! You can do it! Just put more effort into it!” Oh, eff off!). I felt refreshed and energised, as though I could run for twenty more miles.

The hormones must have been flooding through me and I didn’t notice when a man in dark clothing stepped out of the protruding hazel bushes and barred my way. I cannoned into him and he nearly went sprawling. I was obviously supposed to stop dead and cower in fear but I was just surprised. However, the impact had halted my progress and I stood looking at this man who had heaved himself upright again. Incredibly, he looked angry when it was he who had leapt out in front of me and not vice versa. My warning system and the Arsehole’s cautionary exhortations had somehow got suppressed. It must have been the endorphins making everything seem great. Well, if you can’t get them from sex, then exercise is the next best thing.

“You miserable bitch,” he said. I felt like laughing. Actually I did laugh. Wrong thing to do, apparently, since he launched himself at me, bawling. He wasn’t that big but if there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that men are almost always inevitably stronger than women. I do quite a lot of exercise and pride myself on my musculature, yet it all melts away when I’m at B&Q trying in vain to hump some huge bale of compressed compost onto a trolley that won’t stand still, when a little old man comes up to me and says: “Here love. Let me do that for you.” And he just does it. Just like that. He looks sparrow-like and about ninety; no matter. He’s a man and therefore several times at least stronger than I am.

I’m not brave, but suddenly I was seized by the need to defend myself. Men weren’t my favourite objects right then and I kicked out hard at this man’s groin. He doubled up, groaning. In fact he was screaming piercingly and I wondered if he was making it up to fox me and to get me to go near him so that he could have another go. I ran to a safe distance and dialled 999. At least the Arsehole persuaded me to take a mobile out with me on my runs. I had trouble making myself heard by the emergency services, so loud was this man’s screaming. I really didn’t think I kicked him that hard. Not really, honestly. Hundred Lane didn’t feature on their list of roads either but eventually I heard a siren at one end of the Lane and ran towards it. As a result this man was apprehended. I was told his name was Ebden Andrews.

I CAME across something called trolleyology some months ago. In fact I’d heard of the scenario before in which a tram (or a trolley to use the American word) is out of control and five people in its path are going to get killed but you can stop it my operating a switch to divert it to another track where there’s only one person who’ll be run down. What to you do? Do you operate the switch and kill one person to save five? There are other versions such as pushing a fat man off a bridge to stop the speeding trolley (he has to be fat since his bulk is needed to slow the trolley down sufficiently) to save the five people on the track. Which would or should you choose to do?

It’s all about the greater good. Like the Alan Turing team at Bletchley who cracked the Enigma code, only to have to decide not to use it for the time being to warn a convoy about to be hit, thereby instantly giving the game away to the Nazis. This was so that they could use the knowledge gradually in a controlled fashion over time to shorten the war, even though one of their number, according to the film The Imitation Game, had a brother in the convoy who’d almost certainly die in the attack.

In these situations it must feel like playing God. The film dealt with the problem fairly matter-of-factly though I could imagine every single one of them in reality, if it was true, going home and crying themselves to sleep. Perhaps war toughens people up and no doubt life in general was tougher in those days before all our modern prerequisites and aversion to any kind of discomfort or inconvenience.

For me, it was a bit of a greater good moral dilemma question. Should I pursue charges against this man and in the process have everyone I know, including work colleagues, my mother and, curse him, the Arsehole, be aware that someone’s tried to rape me but I kicked him in the balls, making myself a laughing stock regardless of the actual seriousness of the situation? Should I be public-spirited and think of all the other poor girls he might accost and force himself on who don’t react as aggressively as a just-recently-abandoned-wife-in-favour-of-a-younger-larger-bosomed-version would?

The greater good for me was definitely to let this man off the hook, add him to my list of evil curse objects, get drunk and issue a jinx or two, then forget the episode completely. On the other hand, for the good of others, possibly a considerable number, I should go ahead and co-operate with him being charged, hopefully in that case found guilty and sentenced, a sentence which may well have resulted in him getting the help he so obviously needed.

I couldn’t really tell which the police would have preferred. They seemed overworked to a fault. Rather like solicitors in fact. I wondered if they would welcome my telling them not to bother and just walking out of there, so that they could screw up all the paperwork, hurl it into the bin in the corner and all take themselves off down the road to the pub.

At which point, the nice young detective came back into the room and put my decision beyond doubt. He told me that the man who attacked me was born with one testicle and that he was having to be taken to hospital since his only gonad had blown up to the size of a football. He said it looked as though it might burst (the officer cringed as he said this) and the police of course couldn’t cope with that.

The decision was at that point, as I said, taken squarely out of my hands because I was buggered if I was going to have to fend off the dual resulting hoots of mirth and hilarity of both kicking a man in the balls at all and possibly fatally damaging the only single testicle the man had. I reasoned to myself silently that if his only knacker was now damaged beyond repair, then he wouldn’t be much of a risk to women in the future. He was literally knackered!

The detective confirmed, when I asked, that my identity wouldn’t be made known to Ebden Andrews or indeed to anyone and he confirmed that I’d remain anonymous. I told the detective that I wouldn’t in the circumstances press charges. It seemed too harsh. He looked relieved and I could see him mentally going back and tidying his desk, shutting down his computer, locking his drawers, shouldering himself into his jacket and checking his wallet for enough readies to go down the pub. I noticed that the nick was quite quiet anyway. The rest were obviously already down there. He must’ve drawn the short straw for the task of taking a detailed statement from that loony lawyer who kicks men in the goolies sufficiently hard to put an end to their manhood altogether.

Fool that I was, I did tell the Arsehole about the incident when he came over shortly afterwards to collect a few more items of clothing. Well, we hadn’t been separated for that long. His having left me was still sinking in and I was used to telling him things. He didn’t laugh. He seemed quite concerned. I remember that at the time I tried not to pathetically interpret that to mean he might come back. We subsequently emailed each other about it once or twice but soon after, he stopped coming over and we stopped emailing.

BACK IN the here and now, I decide to contact the paper first thing tomorrow, through the firm, and threaten to sue them for defamation if they print anything. Ebden Andrews may well have been getting a fat fee for the article, but he can go hang. With any luck, he’ll back off if no one’ll take any notice of him.

And what about the other women he previously attacked. Presumably it was him. Didn’t the police do anything about them after getting Ebden down at the station? I’ll take that up with the police. One way or another, I’ll try to defeat this nonsense and nip it in the bud before it goes any further. Feeling better at having at least reached some decisions, I drag myself upstairs to bed. I know I shan’t get a wink of sleep.

THE following day, I go into work. I check people’s faces for veiled smirks, signs of derision, open amusement, never mind actually telling me with mock concern how sorry they were to hear about posters everywhere labelling me as ‘The Castanet Kicker’. But I can’t detect the slightest snigger or change of expression. In small offices, everyone is usually agog for scandal. The tiniest snippet gets seized upon, chewed over and every last ounce of interest extracted with or without the knowledge of the subject. I know this lot couldn’t resist letting me know they know, if they did know. But there’s nothing whatever to indicate that they do. Not any of them. And news gets around like wildfire in a small office, so I have to conclude that none of them know.

I’m relieved, though it means I’ll have to approach the local paper on my own. I can’t enlist the help of the litigation department who might actually have some clue about the law of defamation and defamation actions. Still, all I should need to do is put the wind up the local papers to stop them from printing anything. I don’t actually have to start an action.

I therefore ascertain the email address of the editor and write a few lines in the name of the firm as though acting on behalf of a client saying that in the event of publication of any allegations by Ebden Andrews involving or naming ‘our client’, the firm wouldn’t hesitate to commence proceedings for libel against the paper. I don’t include my name or even say what the allegations may be.

I receive a response within the hour saying that they have never heard of Ebden Andrews and have no intention of printing any story involving him. Of course the paper might be lying. I doubt it though. If there was a juicy story to be had, I would have expected them to try to draw out the firm for comment and to suggest meeting with the firm and the client to get the client’s side of the story. But they simply don’t seem to have anything on it.

SO THAT’S basically that. I don’t come across any more posters and neither does anyone I know. I’m relieved to say that no more is heard from this Andrews. I continue to wonder how Ebden got hold of a photo of me without knowing my name. It’s a complete mystery.

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