(Originally intended date of posting: early October 2009)
In the autumn of 2009, a man whom I had never met before did not move into the ground floor flat downstairs. His name was, and may still be, Joe Cooper.
Although Joe Cooper did not move in, he had most definitely planned to and I was excited by this news. The outgoing neighbour, Reuben, had spoken of Joe Cooper's tallness and excellent manners when he came to look around. Also, let us consider the name Joe Cooper, and how it suggests dashing youth and handsome old age, rolled up shirt sleeves and distracting forearms, thick hair and good manners and an aura of Sporty but Not In A Weird Way.
I don't know why Joe Cooper did not move in, but I know we were kept apart by a matter of a cruel few days. The evidence? A card I found on our shared doormat that said 'Dear Mr Cooper, we tried to install your Sky+ today, but you weren't in.' Even now, months later, post still drops optimistically through the communal letterbox for him.
Here are the things I do know for sure about Joe Cooper:
1) From the envelopes addressed to him, stamped with the names of wealth asset management companies, he has a certain amount of disposable income.
2) He has Sky TV.
From my perspective at least, our prospects looked excellent. But my potential future with Joe Cooper now exists entirely in the negative, thanks to some caprice of bounced deposit cheques or eccentric letting agents.
In the autumn of 2009, I did not watch furtively from behind my bedroom curtains as Joe Cooper unpacked his life from the boot of a mid-range small car and carried it into the flat below. I did not mentally judge him a little bit with every emerging possession, which included an enormous television (tick), an ugly heirloom-style coffee table (endearing), several items to indicate an enthusiasm for Manchester United (fail, crashing fail) and an enormous rucksack suggesting he'd Been Travelling (undecided). At around this time, I realised my bedroom curtains could use a wash.
Three weeks later, I did not meet him for the first time in our communal corridor, having been meaning to knock and say hello like a grown-up ever since he moved in, but always finding an excuse not to. We did not have a flustered but well-meaning conversation where we occasionally talked over each other in our attempts to be welcoming (my side) and Not Totally Odd (both sides).
At some point after this, Joe Cooper did not knock on my door and ask if he could borrow some pliers, and then, while I was foraging for them in the Cupboard Of Things Which Have No Other Home, he did not browse my DVD collection, remarking in gently disparaging terms on my fondness for fey indie romcoms and recommending instead some Acclaimed US Drama with Courtroom Slash Police Slash Military Action.
At Christmas 2009, I did not receive a courtesy invitation to a drinks party at Joe Cooper's flat, at which I decided, after considerable deliberation, that none of Joe Cooper's friends were as attractive as Joe Cooper.
In the early spring 0f 2010, after a string of increasingly less coincidental meetings in the hallway, we did not end up watching some significant occasion of football together, thanks to his Sky Sports subscription. This, in turn, did not lead to us attending a local pub quiz together, which I would subsequently refer to as our first date, although Joe Cooper would never agree (we would later participate in nauseating play-arguments about this point of conjecture at friends' dinner parties). During the evening, Joe Cooper did not talk at length about the months he'd spent travelling (I bloody knew it), the exact period of time that seemed lost from my life expectancy after listening to him go on about it. Yet by the end of this evening, he had won a consolation-prize brewery-branded tankard, as well as the return of my previously diminishing affections, with his knowledge of historical battles and heavyweight champions of the world.
By late spring, there had not become officially a Thing.
By early summer, I had not told my friends that there was not a Thing, to which they did not respond with the following: 'I knew this would happen.' 'The one with the arms?' 'So now you can use the garden whenever you like?'
By August, I had not met his parents, thawing the initial froideur of his father with a homemade fruitcake, and successfully engaging his Dad Skills in fixing one of my lamps.
Over the next 12 months, Joe Cooper did not take me to task about my hostility to social events and general remoteness, gradually eroding them, while I attempted to do the same with his Manchester United memorabilia, to moderate success.
After some time, Joe Cooper and I did not begin attending friends' weddings together, studiously avoiding eye contact during the ceremony and performing tag-team interminable talking at anyone we met there to prevent any lull in the conversation in which they might ask us whether we 'would be next'.
Throughout these months, I was not constantly suppressing the urge to ask Joe Cooper wild-eyed, pseudo-peri-menopausal questions about whether he wanted children and how soon, how soon exactly, at some point in the next year, at some point in his 40s, when, when, when, I mean there's plenty of time and everything but WHEN.
I did not then embark on a campaign of inviting only my friends who had the most adorable and immaculately behaved children over for long Sunday lunches. I absolutely did not do this.
During this time, Joe Cooper and I did not spend interminable evenings talking about whether to move out of our upstairs-downstairs flat arrangement, in favour of one bigger flat, or whether to call in a lifestyle-magazine-style architect to create a ladder-and-hatch arrangement through the middle of both flats, before, inevitably, failing to do either and living in his (for the garden), while mine became a refuge for our joint collection of VHS tapes, unwanted family-heirloom coffee tables and only partially loved sporting memorabilia.
Eventually, Joe Cooper did not mumble a proposal during a European city break, an evening I subsequently marred by ordering a ridiculous dessert and then feeling sick. There did not follow a city wedding in which our families were polite to each other, our friends were well behaved, their children less so, and everyone toasted our long and happy future.
Joe Cooper did not move in, so we never met, so we will never know.