When you move someplace new in your twenties, you make friends by getting drunk. In your thirties, you join a book club. The first book in my new Amsterdam group is called The Humans. It’s about a Cambridge maths professor whose body is possessed by an alien.
Now, usually I won’t read anything involving aliens, wizards, hobbits or any other form of supernatural being. So this doesn’t bode well. But I read the book anyway. My social calendar’s not exactly overflowing.
Then comes the get-together itself. Walking into the bar, I realise I’ve no clue what they look like. I sidle up to the first English-speaking table. They’re all seventy plus. Please don’t let it be them, I think, backing away slowly.
The next table’s full of Dutch people air-kissing one another. This can’t be them either. But I’m hovering, and they’re starting to notice. Again I back away, bumping into the waitress as I go. Fail, I think. I’m just going to leave.
Then I spot a long table at the back. A woman sees me peering quizzically and offers a little smile, as if to say it is we you seek. I’m filled with relief. “Here’s your seat!”, calls out a friendly Canadian as I approach. When are Canadians not friendly? Afterwards, I head home in high spirits. Check me out, I think. I just totally made friends.
A week passes and there’s no word of the next gathering. They’re probably just getting organised, I think. Maybe I spelled my email address wrong, I worry after two weeks.
Three weeks later, I still haven’t heard. I think back to the night. There was that one girl who found it unlikely the other characters wouldn’t have noticed the maths professor acting oddly, what with being possessed by an alien. “Knowing Cambridge mathematicians,” I’d said, “that’s not at all unlikely.” That must be it. I’m a Cambridge wanker.
At last, the email arrives. See, you’re not a wanker! I tell myself. But I’ve now six days to read all 448 pages of the next book.
“Only 74 and a half pages a day”, says my husband, the Cambridge mathematician.