As I kissed Bryony at Charing Cross station, I became aware of the commuters brushing past. Someone actually knocked my bag and I broke away.
“Wonderful,” I said.
I shifted my bag from one shoulder to the other.
“I mean, the night. It was great – wonderful.”
“The kiss was nice too, of course…”
“…It’s just there are lots of people here.”
I surveyed the concourse.
“Where are they all coming from at this time?” I said.
“Listen,” Bryony said, “I have to get my train.”
“Yes, me too,” I said, needlessly looking at my watch.
In the days that followed Bryony and I tried to arrange a second date. I have found that in the world of online dating its preferable to have a jam-packed schedule. Presumably this is an indicator of success. Personally, I had no such desire to appear preoccupied and was in fact free most nights. Work no longer ate into my ‘real’ life – I had long given up on working excessive hours and was very good at simply pretending to be industrious.
My favourite ploy was to speak assertively at meetings, sometimes stabbing the air with my pen. It was actually turning out to be a pretty successful model.
Conversely, Bryony was caught up in some kind of corporate whirlwind, flying from one PR event to the next. After a chain of dry emails we managed to find a slot on Saturday.
Our subsequent texts:
Bryony: “Be great to see you Sat, M, but I have to go to work drinks in the evening. How about lunch?”
M: “Sure, sounds nice. Any ideas, in town maybe?”
Bryony: “Sorry I can’t. Have to get my hair done at 3 – how’s Brixton for u?”
M: “Ok. Say 12?”
Bryony: “I’ve got to pick up a dress – how about 2?”
And like a fool, I agreed.
A date due to last less than an hour, maybe this was the new thing – speed-dating taken to its logical conclusion.
Needless to say, I was not entirely surprised when Bryony cancelled our one-hour date. Apparently, her hair appointment had been “brought forward”. Indignant, I asked if it couldn’t have been “pushed back”. To which she pushed back, informing me that “Raf is very busy”.
This meant nothing, yet I acquiesced:
“Moving forward,” I texted “let’s both be flexible.”
We eventually settled for Sunday – possibly the worst day for such ventures.
Bryony wanted to go to Notting Hill and Portobello market. To do what, I don’t know – browse presumably. A knot tightened in my stomach, I usually avoided such territory. I knew I would be expected to engage in horseplay and try on a variety of hats and coats in an amusing manner.
I pictured myself wearing a trilby at a jaunty angle and winced – it was Sleeping with the Enemy, and I was the guy with the beard.
Sunday came around and we met at the station at 11am. It was a true daytime date – or “day-te” as I said in a text to my friend Beth. “I’ll give you that,” she wrote before going on to sympathise. The timing made the gig tougher, I operated more effectively in dimly-lit bars – preferably in a Chardonnay-induced haze. I was not versed in the browse-and-banter style required here.
From the outset I felt compelled to remark favourably on every market stall, regardless of its individual merit.
“Look,” I said pointing to a battered biscuit tin, “that looks good.”
“Yes, very retro.”
Bryony picked it up and turned it over.
“Vintage,” I said.
We both looked at the tin.
Realising I had nothing more to add I picked up an old White Ensign – the flag of the Royal Navy.
I asked the trader, “how much for this, mate?”
“Let me see, that one is thirty-five.”
I nodded sagely. Turning to Bryony I said:
“I used to be in the navy, you know.”
“Yes, you said.”
She was still looking down at the tin.
Things were not going well – time to try something radical. Looking around I found the perfect prop.