It’s the 28th of December.
You’ve been reporting on a football match, your last as a sports journalist. It was a drab, goalless draw on a freezing night in South London. The best part about the game was the free neon fleece they gave you so you could keep warm in the press box. That and the fact that it was your last.
You are done with football and the people in it. You are done with trust, done with romance, done with large swathes of humanity. It has been a supremely crappy year.
You have stupidly arranged to meet up with friends for drinks nearby after the game, after the boring managers’ press conference, after you’ve filed a few paragraphs of dull copy to the newspaper and snapped your laptop shut.
You don’t want to go out tonight. You want to go back to your mum and stepdad’s house and lie on the couch under a duvet watching Love, Actually. You hate Love, Actually with a burning passion. That you want to watch it for the third time in two days is a terrible sign.
You call your mum on your way out of the stadium, still wearing the neon fleece, still lugging your laptop bag.
“I don’t want to go out tonight,” you say.
“Don’t be silly,” she tells you. “You should go.”
Reluctantly, you drag yourself along. A few hours later, you are in a pub with your college friends, your older brother and his girlfriend. A few drinks later, you are start to feel a little brighter.
You don’t know it yet, but in a pub nearby, two American roommates are drinking. They just landed in London from LA and are staying out late to beat their jet lag. They are only here for two nights and every second counts. They are drinking with a group of random English blokes, led by a man named Rob.
At around eleven o’clock, your friends suggest you all move on from the pub, which is closing, to a late night bar fashioned from an old public toilet on Shepherd’s Bush Green. A toilet filled with booze seems like exactly the place you should be right now, so you go along.
At around the same time, the pub the Americans are in is closing. Their new friend Rob offers to take them to a late night bar fashioned from an old public toilet on Shepherd’s Bush Green.
Some time later, you are standing outside the bar/toilet on the green, smoking a cigarette. You gave up smoking years ago, but you’ve decided to take it up again for the holidays, in much the same way you’ve decided to take up watching Love, Actually.
Outside, in the bitter cold, you notice a man with good posture and a nice scarf and a lovely handsome face that is open and kind and disarmingly earnest. He is smiling at you. He radiates goodness in a way you are quite unprepared for on the dregs of this wintry night, on the tail end of this crappy year.
In the meantime, another man approaches you. He is fair-haired and fairly drunk.
“What’s your name?” he asks.
You tell him.
“I’m Rob,” he says.
This is bad news. You have been avoiding the name Rob. Somebody with the name Rob recently broke your heart, contributed greatly to your loss of faith in football and large swathes of humanity, to your current predilection for cheesy romcoms.
“Oh,” you say. “I’m actually not speaking to anyone called Rob right now.”
The man with the good posture and the nice scarf and the lovely, handsome face that is open and kind and disarmingly earnest steps forward. He speaks with an American accent, which is also unexpected.
“I’m not called Rob,” he says.
You chat with him and him alone for the rest of the night.
Later, when you’re sharing a taxi home with your brother and his girlfriend, you keep saying the same thing over and over, because it surprises you.
“I liked him.”
You remind yourself that it will never go anywhere. He lives thousands of miles away and he is leaving in twenty-four hours. And besides, you have lost faith in large swathes of humanity.
Seven years later, you are happily married. You dated each other long distance for a while, before you met in the middle and moved to New York City. You will always be grateful for the things that made that year so crappy and for the drab, goalless draw, and for the random English blokes and the toilet/bar on Shepherd's Bush Green.
This year you became parents to a beautiful baby boy, who is also not called Rob.