It was through my work with the Toc H South East Region Project Committee (Serpc aka Harpic aka whatever else seemed funny and ridiculous at the time) that John Mitchell roped me in for this project in Regent’s Park. It was still the early days of recovery for me and I tended to throw myself at everything going. Thus on a summer’s day in 2002 Toc H were to provide marshalling facilities for the annual Aga Khan Foundation Partnership Walk. Sounded good to me and one evening a few days before the walk itself, I was at the Foundation for a pre-project briefing and the chance to meet some of the Muslim youth groups walking and some other helpers. I expected to know most of the Toc H volunteers, and I did, except one. I first spotted her outside on the pavement whilst we were waiting to go in. She struck me as being tall and spindly. She wore her hair short and dyed and clearly didn’t adhere to the ‘norm’. Always a plus point in my books though I wasn’t necessarily smitten with immediate effect. That happened when we streamed into the ornate building that was centre of the Foundation’s work in the capital, and this Toc H volunteer stormed the organiser’s desk demanding to know why they didn’t have a hearing loop in operation. Feisty! That was when I first noticed the hearing aid. It was all making sense. But apart from exchanging a few words of hello, that was all the evening held for us. My mate Dominic and I headed back to the Badlands of Hertfordshire and Essex, the other Toc H volunteers left for the Toc H Volunteer Diaspora, and feisty girl left for Brixton. Because I found out that much about her – she lived in Brixton, oh, and her name was Hazel.
Come the day of the walk itself, I swang into action. My friend Jo was assigning work rotas, so I immediately ensured that I got assigned with Hazel. And there we were that Sunday at the end of July 2002, stood by a zebra crossing on the Inner Circle in Regent’s Park. There was a ten year age difference but we seemed to have enough in common for that not to be an issue and we chatted; we giggled; we had a laugh. And I must have flirted. I must have revealed my intent because the next thing I know, Hazel has dropped her girlfriend into the conversation. Not the friend who is female but the girlfriend! I am told! No uncertain terms. Back off boogaloo.
Thing is, I didn’t know at first if she was even telling me the truth or just using it as an excuse to save her having to say she wasn’t in the least bit interested in me. Thankfully I didn’t have to live with that uncertainty for too long as she produced the photos of the girlfriend shortly afterwards. So, yes, Hazel was a lesbian and currently seeing another woman. So much for that avenue of adventure.
And as far as I was concerned that really was it from a romantic viewpoint. I wasn’t some macho dork who believed he could straighten Hazel out. I wasn’t even the type to try and steal her away from another. If she was seeing someone, then that was it as far as I was concerned. Instead we became friends. More than that we became volunteer colleagues and started working on a project together to take a number of adults with learning disabilities to Lindridge House in Devon. We saw each other regularly. We even became quite intimate. After all, being of differing sexual persuasions there was no danger of any of that messy, squishy, lovey-dovey stuff happening by accident so no harm being all touchy-feely then.
In fact, when the project rolled around, Hazel had a stinking cold and was feeling a bit fed up. She couldn’t face sleeping in the dorm room with the guests, so ended up squeezing into the ‘driver’s bed’ with me. Like I said, there was no danger of any naughty stuff going down. What could possibly go wrong?
We’ve been together almost sixteen years as I write this. The Dyke and the Drunk.
What could possibly go wrong?