I first met my wife, Alice, who is English, in 2003 when we both lived in New York. She lived with two other English girls, Claire and Bridget, in a huge warehouse space above a wholesale food distribution business called Western Beef, at the corner of 9th Avenue and West 14th Street. Western Beef has gone now and in its place is an Apple store. Hail the new Meatpacking District. Back then, however, the premises attracted all sorts of ancillary visitors due to the nature of the stock on the ground floor, four legged types. Some of these were tiny little cheese munchers who lived through an arch in a skirting board and some were terrifying bringers of nightmares, whose ancestors had so efficiently served as couriers to the bubonic plague. So my earliest memories of our courtship all involve there being at least three of us in the room at any one time. Her, me and a rat that sometimes stood and stared at us for so long that I wondered if it was working as a sketch artist.
There always seemed to be a revolving cast of other male visitors to the apartment and from one week to the next I never knew who was new, who was old and who was just passing through when it came to Claire and Bridget. My biggest memory of that time was how all three girls would refer to any man they had had enough of as someone who gave them ‘the cringe’. And it was always one tiny little thing that had brought it on. It could have been the wrong shoes. Or ordering the wrong food in a restaurant, or not paying the whole bill in a restaurant, or for insisting on paying the whole bill in a restaurant. And when it was said the other girls would always agree. “Oh yeah, totally. Forget it.”
Even now, 12 years later, ‘The Cringe’ is our way of explaining anything that we don’t like for any kind of reason, rational or irrational.
“I had to leave…it was giving me the cringe.”
Sometimes we say it in French. Le Cringe, like flange.
This all leads me to today and a recent conversation with one of my photographic assistants, a girl, who was telling me about the experience of being 27, single and regularly dating on Tinder. Every story seemed to end in some sort of painful cringe moment that was also hilarious (because of the way she told it) and I realised that it’s still all the same, regardless of technology and methods of meeting, and 10 years of children and marriage have dulled my memories of a time when just sneezing in a weird way might bring an axe down on the whole damn thing without you ever realising at all.
The small nuances of human behaviour, the way people transmit and receive signals, the consequences of the tiniest decision made by one half of a couple who have only just got together. In these earliest and most fragile of days and nights lay potholes and dumb mistakes that play out in the shortest of moments, thus laying waste to what had been a beautiful and idyllic landscape only seconds before.
For this I’m grateful and in honour of all those cringe moments in all the bedrooms and on all the dates in all the world, from halcyon pillow talk to pure physical repulsion, in two minutes and twenty seconds, here’s a short film called ‘Gone Off’…..