stuart, and the hawaiian luau

Last night I drew Stuart, sitting reading on the sofa, this time in profile. I’m fussing over him quite a bit at the moment because he’s felt awfully neglected for the past couple months, when events have meant I haven’t had a single weekend at home. During the day, we took a walk along the river to Greenwich Market, which was twinkly and bustling in the run up to Christmas.

On Saturday, my studio mate Ellen Lindner celebrated her birthday with a Midwinter Hawaiian Luau. Which made for some amusing combinations as people traipsed in from the snow in their thermal leggings and grass skirts.

Birthday girl Ellen Lindner & giant banana

The last time I went to a winter luau was 13 years ago, in Moscow, the day before I risked everything to tell Stuart I fancied him.

The temperature had been a steady -20C, and my friend Georgia Jansson and I took the Metro out to some obscure market I’d never heard of, where Georgia knew we could buy all sorts of exotic fruit. So we haggled with the fruit vendors, picked up a Beach Boys album from the Gorbushka (a dodgy outdoor CD mart, which name literally means ‘heel of the bread loaf’) and headed to her place to go wildly tropical. I couldn’t find a Hawaiian shirt, but my Russian landlady let me borrow a eyeball-searingly bright Nehru jacket she’d somehow managed to get hold of during the Brezhnev era.

Gary Northfield and hipster pineapple

Stuart came to the party and really liked my jacket. He also fastidiously helped with the washing up. We danced.

The thing is, Stuart and I had been friends for at least a year, and everyone else assumed we were going out. But when anyone would allude to it, we’d always quickly correct them, horribly embarrassed that the other one would think we were coming on to them. Stuart was this swish British diplomat, 14 years older than me, and I felt very scruffy among the wives of his foreign service colleagues. They had drivers and cleaners and wore tasteful woolen M&S skirts and tights; I walked from the Metro and wore scruffy black jeans that I washed maybe once every three weeks in the bathtub, and Doc Marten boots that got a big rip across the toe the first time I wore them. To make matters worse, as a single Brit, Stuart had all these bombshell Russian chicks constantly throwing themselves at him; if you’d been in my place and seen how glamourous they were, you wouldn’t have thought you’d stood much of a chance. The expat wives feared them as much as I did. I figured, I’d much rather be Stuart’s long-term good friend than say something and ruin it all by making everything horribly awkward.

Peter Stanbury, Jimi Gherkin, John Miers

But I went home that evening from the Hawaiian party so horribly giddy about this shy but attentive Englishman that I didn’t even know what to do with myself. Definitely not sleep. I ended up crawling into my flatmate Mags’s bed and pouring out my guts to her about the whole situation. Mags is an incredibly sensible person (and, at the time, was coordinating the Girl Guides movement throughout the whole former Soviet Union). Mags advised me to be honest with Stuart, and tell him how I felt. When I brought up the age gap, she pointed out that the couple who founded the Guides, the Baden-Powells, had an age gap of 32 years, and they’d been very happy, so who was to say it couldn’t work out. …The Baden-Powells, yup.

Richard Cowdry & Kevin Hinde

So, armed with new Girl Guide resolve, I set out to tell Stuart the very next day. That evening, after we’d met up with friends, I suggested we go for a walk to nearby Alexandrovsky Sad, the Kremlin Gardens. I was so caught up in what I wanted to say that I blindly followed him in the opposite direction to the Metro station of the same name, and came to, only when I realised we were just about to go down to the platforms and leave each other. I almost lost resolve then, but nope. We turned around and walked to the Kremlin Gardens. I don’t think Stuart suspected a thing.

John Aggs with parasol hair display

I didn’t know how to start. Maybe I was just his little buddy. Stuart was being his usual, aimiable self. I finally stammered something like, ‘You know, I think you are my most favourite person in the whole world’. And Stuart said something like, ‘Oh, thank you.’ And we kept walking. I knew I had to go with it, or I was going to hate myself for ever. After a few seconds of silence, I turned back to him and blethered, ‘I mean, I really, really LIKE you.” He stopped and looked very puzzled.
“But what?” Oh, no. My heart plummeted to the soles of my cracked boots.
“But… I’m not too old?” he asked.
Stuart’s a rather shy, very English type of person, and I wasn’t sure, if it ever came to this, if he’d be up for kissing in public. But… oh yes! He was. MASSIVE SNOG in the Kremlin Gardens. He was shaking like a leaf. Then MASSIVE SNOG right in the middle of Red Square.

Noelle Davies-Brock and Barnaby Richards

The time was getting very late, and we both had work the next morning. So we decided to walk to the Metro station. As we approached it, we decided to walk on a bit, around the ring road to the next station, and leave from there. And the same thing happened at the next station. We walked all the way around the whole Boulevard Ring until we found ourselves back at the first station we’d bypassed.

Ellen & Julia

The next day morning, I was back at work, copy editing that day’s issue of The Moscow Times. I couldn’t concentrate at all. Never has a paper been so badly edited, and never has a paper had such strange headlines or photo captions.

Megan Donnolley and Paul Gravett

…I guess, after all that, what I’m trying to say is that Hawaiian-themed parties are a very good idea.

Dylan Wyn Owen

Oh, and here is my neighbour friend. I don’t normally bring 9-year-olds to parties, but there was a bit of a medical emergency in her flat and no babysitter, so come along she did. She’d hijacked my Facebook status updates earlier that day to tell a story about an alien named Bob, and she out-partied all of us.

Hayley Campbell, Sarah’s Facebook Hacker, Sarah

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