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All the things that they make you say
And all the love that you hide away

Dating culture in Britain is well defined: Friday night is Boys' Night, Saturday night is Date Night. Both entail binge drinking in your local pub; the only discernible difference is what happens at closing time. Fridays you venture onwards to the Curry House, Saturdays you have sex.

Britons all seem strangely satisfied with this set-up. Sunday is easy enough ("morning sex is always worth staying for"), don't linger too long and he'll ask for her mobile number, maybe give her his if he likes her. The fun starts on Wednesday. Monday is Euphoria Day ("Yay! I had sex!), Tuesday is Decision Day ("Should I see her again?"), Wednesday is Treat Her Mean to Keep Her Keen Day ("Heh, she sent me a flirty text message."), Thursday is Little Saturday (not too many drinks in your local, he'll send a flirty reply to her text message).

Friday plays out in the usual way, and on his way to the Curry House, provided he hasn't met a fluffier piece of fluff that night, he'll text her his plans for Saturday, not-quite-inviting her along, but letting her know where he'll be.

The next couple of weeks follow more-or-less the same pattern, though some text message exchanges may get longer or end in phone calls. By the fourth week, you're "seeing" each other. This does not rule out Friday night conquests or moving on without even so much as a text message explanation. Making the transition from "seeing each other" to "going out" involves a complex display of cat-and-mouse.

Give a little, but not too much. Do not call unless it's your turn. (Not even if its three days since he said he'd call and your friend invited you to a cool party and you need to RSVP within 15 minutes.) Be prepared to lose a few battles to win the war. Arm yourself with every feminine wile and venture forth with ruthless subtlety. Lose your scruples and you will prevail. Do not show your cards until he shows you his. Make sure his hand beats yours. Cheat if you have to.

I'll pick you up and it'll be alright
I'll pick you up and it'll be tonight

I had watched him from afar for months, with neither hope nor expectation. At the time I was playing my only game of Britdating. Six months in we showed our cards: we both held a flush of hearts. I put the deck in my back pocket and went away for a while. Into my trip, I looked a little closer at our hands: his highest card was a six, mine was the knave, but there were a few diamonds in there too.

While I was away, the one I'd been watching looked at me and smiled. I waved back and we arranged to meet. When he opened the door, up close for the first time, for a moment I didn't recognise him. He was too big, his presence too imposing. He showed me into a roomful of people, but I didn't notice them. I was nervous and excited and self-conscious because oh my goodness! Am I flirting? Either he didn't notice or he didn't mind, so I stopped worrying.

My only regret is that I was so drunk by the time he kissed me that I can barely reconstruct the scene: We were walking, I was on the right (I'm always on the left, the right usually feels strange. It didn't.) We stopped, under a streetlight, we kissed. Then we walked on.

We completely missed the party and we didn't notice and don't care. When you're next to someone and you can't tell where you end and they begin, you can't do anything else. You can try hugging and kissing and talking, but when your soul is singing, laughter and sleep are the only possibilities. Eighteen hours pass by in a heartbeat. You don't shun the outside world, it doesn't exist.

She rode a horse into my head
She rode a horse into my head
She won't discipline the children
And now they're running wild on the beach
And I don't care, no I don't care

I grew up in a coastal town so there are few emotional experiences I can recall that are not connected in some way with the sea. I'm not fussy: a beach or the rocks, really it depends on my mood. Frustrated passion, give me strong waves crashing on jagged rocks; Quiet sadness, I'll take gentle waves lapping the shore. The ocean is my refuge, my place of solace, it's where I go to pull myself together.

When I was a teenager and toying with astrology, I used to say my dependence on the sea was because of my star sign. My sun sign. Some say our feelings towards the ocean mirror our feelings towards sex: this might explain why I am very picky when it comes to lovers and would rather go without for long periods of time than settle for second best.

Something happens to me when I'm on a beach, you might say I trip out. I am overcome by the power of nature: her beauty, her might; her ability to craft delicate features one day and rip apart a pier the next. The beach makes me run and do cartwheels sometimes, other times it calls me to sit quietly watching the waves. Either way I am free, I am happy and except for a dog or a horse, I am always alone.

It's the middle of the night and you're here
Playing dominoes and drinking beer

Before I came back, I wrapped up a piece of me with a ring and entrusted it to the USPS. I've since come to learn that those are less-than safe hands, and I'll never get either back by the same route. Since getting back I've suffered separation anxiety. I tried replacing the ring, but it hasn't helped.

He is the first thing I think about in the morning, the last thing I think about at night. He visits me in my dreams, lies with me when I watch TV, makes me smile for no reason. Everything around me reminds me of him: he is in the newspaper, on billboards, walking down the street, in every movie. His mannerisms now characterise my speech, bringing him into every conversation. He is here, right now, in what you're reading.

I tried to think of something deep to say
But my well is dipping dry today

What the IT revolution has done to communication is a Cardinal Sin. Words get delivered across the globe in seconds and as much time goes into arranging them. We made a pact: no e-mail. We'd have kept it too, if every other avenue hadn't blocked us off. The USPS couldn't deliver sand to a desert, the phone broke, hell, even the laptop died.

One-way conversations become mundane retellings of daily life. In the absence of encouraging replies, simple sentences like "I miss you." become impossible to sling together.

She rode a horse into my head
She rode a horse into my head
She won't discipline the children
And now they're running wild on the beach
And I don't care, no I don't care

"Coney Island saved my life" is a snappy phrase that thrashes around in my head. I try to replace "saved" with "changed", but it's not having any of it.

It was the middle of winter and we had the place to ourselves. The only things that were open were the two diners, and we picked the one with the grits. We went to the beach and the only time I let go of his hand was to put it into the water. Standing on the groyne, my eyes were nearly as high as his. We could have stayed forever, but it was late and we had to go.

The only photo I took the whole time we were together was of a rollercoaster. It would make a neat metaphor, but it doesn't fit. Rollercoasters go up and down; they go fast and slow; they make your pulse race and they make you scream out loud from joy and fear. But you always get off a rollercoaster exactly where you got on.

I learned more from him in three days than I'll learn from most people in a lifetime. I threw away all the plans I had made for the future. They were not made for me: I am a different person now. I am myself. It's amazing what you find when you're not looking.


Lyrics - hidden track on Live's Throwing Copper

With apologies to all the Britnoders out there.

You think you know, but really you don't.

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