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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”