Dating degustation

It is half past six in the evening and I am running late. My head is protruding from the armhole of my top and my arms are flailing in the air trying to rectify the erroneous dressing error as I cross the hallway and bump into Harry, one of my house mates. “That’s an interesting look,” he says with a smirk. I glare at him and gesture for assistance, which he provides. “So who’s the lucky man?” he asks as he extricates my head from the unforgiving elastic tube and reinstates it in its rightful orifice, managing to avoid an accidental grope in the process. “Danny,” I say, avoiding eye contact. “We, um, met last weekend – in a bar. Anyway, thanks!” I duck under his arm and run back into my bedroom, closing the door behind me and resting my head on it with a sigh. You see, the truth is, I didn’t meet Danny in a bar. I met him online. And the thought of that fact becoming public knowledge makes me want to be physically sick. But never mind that. I am late and, online date or not, I’d better get going.

Dim Sum Danny

I walk into the dim sum restaurant with flushed cheeks from running. “Can I help you madam?” asks a passing waiter. “Yes, I’m, er, meeting a friend,” I say, casting my eyes around with an air of desperation. “Aha! I think that’s him!” I say, peering into a dark corner and taking the risk of striding across the room towards the shadowy figure who is sitting there, his head buried deep inside the menu. “Danny?” I say, and the figure rises by way of greeting. I am at once struck by his height – or lack thereof. I’ve heard of people who embellish their profiles on dating websites, but this is ridiculous. He said he was five foot eleven but he can’t be a millimetre over five eight – I know because I’m five nine, and I tower over him in my two inch heels. “Catherine,” I say, extending my hand. He clasps it in his, which has the clammy texture of the fish we are soon to eat, and I know at once I have made a terrible mistake.

“So how was dim sum Danny?” Harry asks the next morning as I shuffle into the kitchen. “Urgh, don’t ask.” He raises an eyebrow. “How can I not now you’ve said that? Come on, spill.” I pick up the milk, sniff it and pour it over my cereal, then take a seat opposite Harry at the breakfast bar. “Well for one, he lied about his height. I expected someone two inches taller than me, and got someone an inch shorter – which, given I’d turned up in two inch heels, was pretty embarrassing when we went out for a cigarette.” Harry wrinkled his nose. “I thought you’d quit?” I shrugged. “I did. But trust me when I say this guy was so awful I had to smoke. I was hoping it would give me a breather, but he insisted on coming out with me. He put a cigarette in his mouth the wrong way round and lit it, then nearly coughed up a lung. Worst date ever.” Harry sits back in his chair, his brown eyes twinkling with mirth. “Poor Catherine,” he says, “better luck next time eh?”

Adventurous Al

Next time turns out to be a week later. I have been set up on a blind date by my friend Sally. After my previous online dating disaster she has assured me that Alistair, or Al as he likes to be called, is an absolute gentleman. “Hello,” says a deep voice from behind me. I drop my cigarette and stub it out, attempting a surreptitious waft as he leans in to kiss my cheek. As he pulls away I note his high cheekbones, full lips and brown wavy hair, mentally ticking off my check list. Not bad. “I hope you don’t mind,” he says, and I detect more than a hint of the aristocracy in his voice, “but I took the liberty of choosing a restaurant.” I laugh a high-pitched, girlish laugh, quite unlike my usual dirty one. “Not at all,” I say. Before I know it he’s flagged down a passing cycle taxi and we are whizzing through the streets of London, the wind in our hair. Five minutes later we arrive outside an opulent looking restaurant, its windows bedecked with heavy velvet drapes. Al steps down from our ‘carriage’ and holds out a hand to help me down after him. “Shall we?” he asks, gesturing for me to take his arm. We enter the restaurant and are led to a beautifully decorated table, at which we sit in matching high-backed thrones. Alistair orders a bottle of expensive wine and begins to tell me about his career as a property magnate. When he takes a breath I take a sip of wine and open the menu, but he puts a hand over mine and shakes his head. “Can I help you sir?” says the waiter, appearing beside us. “Yes,” says Alistair, “we’ll have tasting menu C, please.” He pauses and looks over at me. “You’re not allergic to anything are you Catherine?” I shake my head. “No, but…” Alistair closes my menu with a snap. “Good,” he says, and the waiter scurries off into the kitchen.

“He made you eat crickets?” Harry is laughing so hard there are tears in his eyes. “Deep fried ones, yes – in a salad. And a main course of crocodile kebabs – which, so you know, are revolting, like chewing on giant pieces of gristle. I might have got over the first two courses, just about, but the third one was the final straw.” Harry puts his coffee down and steels himself. “What was the third course?” I look him straight in the eye. “A chocolate dipped scorpion.” Harry collapses onto the kitchen surface. I put my head in my hands.

Standard Steve

Two weeks later and without so much as a sniff of male attention in the meantime I am back on the dating website, and have three consecutive dates lined up for the rest of the week (which Harry, in whom I have now confided about the online dating, is calling ‘the dating triple header’). First up, Steve, who ‘likes Italian food’ and ‘works in I.T.’ Hardly the most exciting credentials, granted, but Al’s knocked the wind out of my sails somewhat on that front, so safe is good for me. Or at least that’s what I thought. Now, as I take my seat in the window of Strada on Clapham High Street, I’m having second thoughts. “Shall we get the house wine?” Steve says, fiddling with his tie as if it’s threatening to choke him. “I don’t mind,” I say magnanimously. “You decide.” He calls the waitress over and orders the wine, but not before he’s pointed out the fingerprint smears on his wine glass, or commented that the thermostat seems to be set too high. In fact, by the time our main courses arrive – seafood spaghetti for me and a margherita pizza for him, because, he tells me in one of his scintillating asides, he has so many allergies he really doesn’t trust anything else – I know more about food hygiene than I ever thought possible.

“How was Steve?” Harry calls after me when I arrive home. I hurl myself on my bed and groan.

Busy Ben

Ben, a chartered accountant working at a firm in the City, had no sooner established contact with me online than he was informing me how busy he was. He simply couldn’t fit me in this week, he said, unless I could meet him for lunch on Thursday? And this is how I came to be smoothing down my smartest pencil skirt and sipping on a margarita (not the pizza kind) in a posh rooftop restaurant at Bank. When Ben walks in he spots me at once – not a great challenge considering we are the only two customers here. He is handsome, in a generic businessman sort of way, with silvery grey strands peppering his dark hair. He has a reassuringly firm handshake, too, and his shoes are shined to within an inch of their life. “Sorry I’m late,” he says, and pulls out my chair for me to sit back down. The waiter comes over to take our order and I’m relieved Ben doesn’t do an Al and order for me. “So,” he says, sitting back intertwining his fingers. “Catherine.” I smile and attempt to look alluring. “Yes?” I say with a swish of my hair. Ben and Catherine, I think to myself. That does have rather a ring to it. I take a sip of my margarita and maintain eye contact. The waiter brings a plate of amuse-bouches and I pick one up and attempt a seductive sweep of my tongue around the caviar on the top. “I’ll be straight with you,” Ben says. “I’m looking for a lover, not a wife. I already have one of those, and believe me one is quite enough.” It is all I can do not to spit the caviar across the table. Instead, I down my cocktail, pick up my bag, and walk out.

Dangerous Dave

Although there is really nothing I feel less like doing than go on yet another disastrous date, it’s too late now to back out on Dave, an actor who owns a flat in Chelsea. As I wait for him to arrive in a classy French bistro in Chelsea I am trying to convince myself this one will be different. And he’s different all right. So different, in fact, that the moment he walks into the restaurant I wonder if he’s ticked the right gender box on the ‘looking for’ section of his profile. “Hi,” he says, pulling me into an uncomfortable embrace as if we were long lost friends rather than first time internet dates. “Hi,” I say, staring back at him, my mouth agape. We sit down and begin making small talk, but all I can think about is how, well, effeminate he is. As well as wondering whether he waxes his chest. “Would you like a drink, sir?” the waitress asks. “No, thanks,” he says, “I’m on antibiotics so I’ll just have water.” I shrug, drain the dregs of my second glass of wine and order another. An hour and a half later I stumble out of the restaurant and turn to say goodbye, but Dave is dragging me into the wine bar next door. “What are you doing?” I protest, but we’re inside now and he’s ordering cocktails. “I thought you weren’t drinking?” He shrugs. “Screw the antibiotics. I fancy a drink now.”

“You went back to his place? Even though you thought he was gay?” Harry is not impressed. “What? At least I came to my senses before I slept with him.” Harry sighs. “Catherine, he could have done anything to you in that state. It’s a wonder you made it home.” He’s right, I know, but I’m feeling crap enough as it is and I’m not ready to admit I’ve been stupid. “Well I did make it home, okay Dad? Now leave me alone.”

Long lost Leo

Leo was a holiday romance I had in Spain last summer. I use the term ‘romance’ in the loosest possible sense but nonetheless, when he called me out of the blue the day after my date with Dave, I was at such a low ebb I thought it couldn’t hurt to meet him for a drink after work. So here we are, in a busy Covent Garden cocktail bar with music playing so loudly we can’t hear one another. I’m still feeling queasy from last night and, if truth be told, I’m already starting to think Leo should have lived on in my memory instead of reality. A brash Essex boy, it’s evident he’s trying to live up to the Only Way is Essex stereotype. Frankly, it’s a relief when I catch him eyeing up the group of girls next to us, and it makes my swift exit and subsequent trip to McDonald’s on the way home all the more justifiable.

Cheesy Charlie

I was on the verge of deleting my dating website account when a message pinged into my inbox from Charlie. His messages were so sweet and non-threatening I thought it couldn’t hurt having one last date, and now we’re sitting in the fondue restaurant sharing a giant pot of melted cheese and a bottle of red wine I’m feeling quite content with my decision. Until, that is, he pulls a piece of crumpled paper from his pocket and begins reading me the poem he’s written especially for our date. And proceeds to tell me he’s in love with me. Needless to say there won’t be a second date.

“I just don’t get what’s wrong with me,” I say the next day, slumping into an armchair in the sitting room. “There’s nothing wrong with you,” says Janey, my other housemate. “You’re just not picking the right ones.” A crash from the kitchen alerts us to Harry’s presence. “What’s he doing?” I ask. “He’s been in there all afternoon.” Janey smiles. “He’s got a date. He’s cooking for her.” She winks at me. “So how about we make ourselves scarce and go on a girls’ night?” I frown. “A date? With who?” Janey shrugs. “I don’t know. Does it matter?” I pick up the television remote and start flicking through the channels. “No, of course not.” At seven o’clock I’m putting the finishing touches to my makeup when I hear the front door slam. “Janey?”The lights are off in the landing, but there’s something flickering in the stairwell. I walk over and see a smattering of tea lights leading the way down the stairs. Intrigued, I follow them. When I reach the bottom of the stairs I’m gobsmacked to find Harry, dressed in a dinner jacket and bow tie, holding two glasses of champagne.

Home run Harry

“What the…?” I begin, but Harry puts a finger to my lips and hands me a glass. He leads me by my free hand into the living room, which has been transformed with candles and a beautifully laid table. “I’m staging an intervention,” he says, and I raise an eyebrow. “All your dates have been disasters. So from now on I’ve decided that the only person you should be dating…is me.” He disappears into the kitchen, leaving me open mouthed. And when he returns and puts a plate of delicious looking steak in front of me he adds with a wink, “why have a burger when you have steak at home?”

Slobbing out

Today my borderline obsessive compulsive disorder has been tested to the limit. There are crumbs on the kitchen surfaces (and – shock horror – even on the floor). The bathroom is in urgent need of cleaning, the mirrors are crying out for a polish. The coffee table is sticky with jam. There are even unwashed dishes in the sink. But whilst I normally wouldn’t be able to sit amongst such filth, today I just couldn’t bring myself to deal with it, so it will have to be sorted out tomorrow.

In some ways this temporary spell of slovenliness is good for me. Being house proud is a positive quality, but the last thing I want is to be the sort of person who has a nervous breakdown the second a morsel of food erroneously makes its way onto the floor. It’s good to test the limits of endurance once in a while, if only to give yourself some much needed perspective. High standards are one thing but manic obsession is quite something else, and if it’s all the same to you I’d like to walk the right side of this particular line. Just as soon as I’ve picked that speck of fluff up from the carpet, that is. What can I say? Old habits die hard…

Men are from Mars…

It is 10am on the first (and only) lie-in of the week. The doorbell rings and my boyfriend leaps from the bed with uncharacteristic enthusiasm and bounds down the stairs like an excited puppy. Something, I think as I prop myself up on my pillows, is decidedly wrong with this picture.

Moments later he is struggling up the stairs holding a large box which, I subsequently discover, contains a 42 inch plasma screen television. All is suddenly clear. Some twenty minutes later we are sitting, on opposite sofas, staring at this new leviathan in our midst. An hour later still, nothing has changed. In such a short space of time our relationship has been distilled into this no-man’s land of technology over romance. We have access to every channel known to man, and yet, we are doomed.

From this day forward we are destined to be governed by the omnipresent God of computer wizardry, gangling hither and thither between reality and cyberspace-never the ‘twain shall meet. But, on the plus side, the hotly anticipated next series of Game of Thrones will look pretty badass on the new HD purchase…(Shallow? Me? Absolutely). Maybe having a big TV isn’t so bad after all…

Friday? Sigh day…

Oh Friday, how have I hated thee? Let me count the ways…

  1. Arrived in the office feeling slightly worse for wear (a rarity these days given my advancing years and rapidly declining tolerance for hangovers).
  2. Was then faced with a barrage of emails about a VIP visit on Tuesday for which I had to prepare a multitude of documents, press packs and such like – not to mention liaising with the officious folk at the Cabinet Office.
  3. Just as the above task was being addressed, spotted an error in the marketing materials that were on the verge of being printed: Cue panicked phone calls and emails to avoid 2,000 information packs being printed with incorrect information.
  4. Hangover worsened.
  5. Afternoon flooding of inbox with general urgent requests.
  6. Exhaustion set in.
  7. Received text from mother to inform me my marathon ballot application had been unsuccessful and I therefore have no space in next year’s London Marathon. SAD FACE.
  8. Was unable to join colleagues for post-work birthday/leaving drink celebrations due to necessity of finishing above tasks.

Fortunately, at 6.24pm, I have now finished all my work and am ready to head over to see two of my gorgeous girlie friends for an evening of food and loveliness. And wine. After the day I’ve had, there must definitely be wine…

School’s out

A slight technological hitch meant that yesterday’s post didn’t upload, so here it is….

This morning I attended a training session in the new database system that’s being implemented in my charity. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I reverted to my old schoolgirl ways: Sitting at the back, allowing myself to be distracted, even scrawling notes to colleagues on pieces of paper (both to get their attention and validate our mutual boredom). I’m not proud of my behaviour, but as I did manage to take in most of what was being taught I don’t feel it was too much to my personal detriment (or to the detriment of those in my immediate vicinity-trust me, at school I could be significantly more disruptive when I wanted to be).

In a sense I was just drunk on the nostalgia of it all; sitting in rows in a classroom, a bespectacled and suitably harassed teacher at the front who was desperately trying to keep everyone’s attention. The conditions were ripe for reverting to childhood type, and I’m afraid I rather predictably did just that.

There were even jammy dodgers at break time! I just didn’t stand a chance….

Through the eyes of a child

At lunch time today I walked over to the river and sat down beside the water feature, which spurts jets of water intermittently out of the ground. As I watched, a little girl and a lady who was presumably either her mother or carer came over to look at the water feature. At first the girl, unsure what to expect, was hesitant to get close to it. But as soon as the water shot out of the ground she ran away, squealing with pleasure and clapping her hands. Moments later she was back in her original position, her gaze fixed intently on the spot where the water had originally exploded from. She did the same thing several times over before they eventually walked away, and during that time it struck me there’s a lot that adults can learn from children. Like, for example, the following:

  1. Delight in simple pleasuresChildren can derive pleasure from the simplest of things; a ladybird, a spurt of water, a feather on the ground. If adults took some time each day to appreciate little things in the same way, might it not alleviate some of the stress their busy lives create?
  2. Look at everything as if for the first timeThe older we get, the more of that childish wonder about the world we lose – wouldn’t it be nice if every day we tried to look at things we regard as ordinary and imagine it’s the first time we ever saw them? Not so ordinary now, right?
  3. Don’t waste time on things/people that/who bore youIf a child is given a toy to play with that isn’t very interesting to them, what do they do? Play with something else. Similarly, if a play partner doesn’t make the grade they’ll wander off and either find one that does or simply play alone. Why, then, do we adults put up with things and people that bore us?

Of course there are also many lessons children could learn from us (“Don’t throw your toys out of the pram” among them – didn’t we all learn THAT the hard way). Food for (childish) thought, anyway.

The weight of the world

I don’t usually write poetry but today at lunch time I took myself off to Potters Fields to sit with the sadness I’m currently feeling for some people close to me, and out poured the following (pretty sure today’s post won’t meet the 200 minimum word quota I set myself but sometimes an artist must suffer for her work, and now is one such time):

The weight of the world

If heartbreak had a physical weight, this bench would have buckled years ago. So many came and went, sitting with their burdens when carrying them became too much to bear.

The late summer sun, whilst beautiful, seems now to taunt the hopeful souls who stroll and sit beneath it, catching the last rays before the seasons roll inexorably on.

Above the fading blooms two butterflies (who did not get the end of summer memo) frolic in the air, rising and falling on a breeze so faint it hardly stirs the blades of grass below.

Is this an end or a beginning? In some ways it is neither, but rather just a phase in the constantly shifting cycle of existence.

Why is it only humans want answers? Simple: Because the universe already knows.

(…and will you look at that, I’ve just broken the word count barrier).