If you go a-dating these days you will know all about the pressure to be adventurous – in just about everything you do.
From gobbling odd food in backstreet eateries, to dancing a little sober dance at a little sober dance class – the pressure is always there. And you’d better remember that. Know this: when presenting yourself to a potential partner you must appear neither staid nor restrained, lest you be considered a great big bore. I suppose this explains the omnipresent ‘love of traveling’ that everyone bangs on about on dates. Personally, I hate travel. And I’ve been around. Still, I understand. No one wants to be with a bore, and the unadventurous are bound to be boring. Guaranteed.
Last weekend I went on a double-date with my housemate Luke and his sunny girlfriend Becca. She works for a charity and reads the Guardian. Inevitably, she exudes vague artiness and left leaning goodwill-to-all. Well, not quite ‘all’. She loathes the government – Western governments in general and ours in particular (as for all those despotic regimes in far-flung lands, well, they’re just fine). Luke is a journalist and has actually written for the Guardian. This unpleasant fact could have rendered him ineligible for affection, but he knew the truth about the paper (and it’s readers). It’s all a great swizzle. All that yank-baiting, and Tory-hating is nothing but juvenilia, the work of the young and the young-of-mind.
It was a bright Saturday morning when we visited Borough Market. Sam and I had been on three dates, so her meeting my friends didn’t seem weird. In any case these were ‘presentable friends’. Luke was handsome and urbane; Becca witty and sophisticated (not to mention ghoulishly friendly). They would no doubt counter and compliment my image (that of the corporate killer). With this in mind, I resolved to have fun. Whatever the cost.
“Hey guys,” I said, pointing to a cheese stall. “Check that out.”
We had just entered the market. As I studied the unremarkable cart, and it’s diffident owner, I realised I had pointed in haste. With so many exotic stalls, why go for cheese?
Sam said, “Oh, right. That looks cool.”
She was a tall blonde in double-denim – with a tiny denim bag (triple denim, perhaps?). As an aside, they all had kooky bags, Luke a tattered man-bag and Becca the mandatory ‘Daunt Books’ tote. Only I went bagless. There would be no deft, ritualistic bagging-up for me, chatting amiably with the bearded merchants as I handled my overpriced bread. No, I was destined to carry my wares in my bare arms like some Tudor serf.
I said, “Look at the size of those cheeses.” We all stopped. “They’re really big.”
And so they were, but I was unsure how to riff on this point. We were partially blocking the thoroughfare. A man in a low-cut T-shirt elbowed past.
“Come on,” Luke said. “I know this great place that sells chorizo baps.”
The women lit up. How did he do it? He mixed the exotic with the ordinary to evoke the sublime. Chorizo baps – such elegant phraseology. Luke was definitely a Better Me. We bought our baps and adjourned. Becca led us into a nook by a coffee stand where she immediately fed Luke a chilli. He tilted his head and gobbled the offering like some cute hipster foundling. This seemed to somehow impress my date.
I tore a mushy piece off my bap. Olive oil oozed into my palm.
“Hey,” I said to Sam. “Fancy a piece?”
I thrust my bread-fist forward. “Fancy a piece?”
“No.” She fought off a frown. “I’m fine.”
“But thank you.”
I shrugged then shoved the bread into my gob. The gesture was still sound, I thought. Every good girl deserves bread. Luke led us off towards more stalls. And with it fresh opportunity for disgrace. I forced my disobedient mind to remember the plan: to display an adventurous spirit. A stall to our right was dedicated to olives. Nothing but. Piled up, they formed a half pyramid.
“Check this out,” Luke said.
“Cool,” Becca said. Sam agreed, it was cool.
To be fair the olive mountain was impressive. We pressed towards it as one. Me somewhat gingerly, I would not be the man to topple the pile. I saw myself scrambling around: trying to round up the loose olives; hands-and-knees, flailing in a sea of green; the vendor clutching his head. Chaplin, Spencer, Bean – I would not join their ilk. No, sir.
Inevitably, there was a to-try sample at the front of the stall, replete with cocktail sticks, napkins and bowls. We walked over and nibbled the olives. There was no spoken agreement about this. Luke just knew how to push the female foodie buttons. He was a master.
“Oh, wow,” he said. “They’ve got Kalamatas!”
I said, “Yes, great, I love these bad boys.”
Sam smiled and bit into a lush green olive. Becca commented favourably on the texture of her’s. I discreetly spat a pip into my hand and placed it in a bowl. Next to the repository was a bowl of dark nuts. I popped one into my mouth. It was solid and inedible, however – two breaths later I realised I was chewing on an olive pip. The revelation made me gag. I spat it out.
Luke started laughing. “Hey,” he said, tapping my arm. “Did you just try to eat a pip?”
Sam and Becca looked at me. Sam, a dream in denim, crushed me with her eyes. She had already moved on. Becca laughed – of course – where Luke mocked she followed.
“No,” I said, wiping a trail of saliva from my cheek.
Luke: food market master, cultural diviner, and king of a land I would never understand. I love you but I hate you. Show me the way.