Before my next date I sought advice from my good friend and confident, Mike. I had arranged to meet Rosie, a thirty-two year old maths teacher, near Liverpool Street and needed to find a suitable first-date venue.
Mike emailed me with a choice of three bars in nearby Shoreditch, only a stone’s throw away yet worlds apart. As we all know it is hip, urban and populated almost exclusively by bearded men in over-sized glasses and leggings. I opted for his first suggestion, the Prague Bar, an unhurried locale in the style of a…well, a bar in Prague. On my way I texted for further information. He responded, signing off with “I’ll be there with you, man”.
Naturally, I took this to be a display of male camaraderie, a manly note of encouragement and nothing more.
“Just you wait,” I texted somewhat smugly, “you will learn from the master.”
Upon arrival I was horrified to discover he was being literal. Ensconced between the media darlings and be-hatted youths, I saw Mike and his fiancé Julie. They waved in unison.
“I can’t talk to you,” I said as I bustled past.
He looked confused. As I ordered a pint, I phoned him.
“Yes,” he said.
“What the hell, Mike?”
“Take it easy.”
“What if she comes in? I will look like a right weirdo. Hi, I’ve never met you before, but I thought I’d bring my friends along on our first date.”
“Don’t worry about it, come over and stop being an idiot.”
Julie snatched the phone: “you can say it’s a chance encounter.”
“What, in a city of seven million people?”
It was then that Rosie entered. A tall blonde with a strappy top and sunglasses perched on her head. Surrounded by the faux intelligentsia of East London, she looked as though she’d just wandered off the set of a Fellini movie. In my cheap business suit, I looked like an insurance salesman on the slide.
I made a sweeping gesture.
“These are my friends.”
“Right, I see.”
We kissed politely and I ushered her towards a table at the back, next to the lavatory. It was there that I proffered my explanation, I decided to channel Four-Weddings-Hugh-Grant as I did so but she seemed to buy it.
From there we moved on to education, the environment and religion. Given she was an eco-conscious liberal and fair-weather Catholic, I seemed to stand against everything she held dear. Nevertheless, we moved on to Yeats and all was healed. I threw out the stock lines I held in reserve, she pressed me for more but I feigned modesty.
We wandered back towards the station after a perfectly lovely night. I tried to kiss her but she turned her head and gave me the cheek. That’s fine, of course. As the master said:
“…everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright.”
My second date with Rosie was once again on a school night. We met in the same Shoreditch venue. As before the only available seat was right next to the large unisex disabled-style bathroom. We are repetitious already, I thought, and here I am – toilet-man.
I idly thumbed through a copy of the Daily Mail I found on the table. Again besuited in my shabby work attire, I resembled some kind of crypto-fascist. The bar tenders and clientele on the other hand were appropriately dishevelled with their drainpipes and scuffed brogues – gloriously unkempt and yet suspiciously Middle-Class.
I was pondering on this when Rosie walked in. We kissed and I motioned to the distant bar tender. He turned away.
“By the toilets again?” she said.
“Well, you know,” I said, “convenient.”
She gave one of those pursed smiles that you offer to people on the bus.
I bought us some mid-range wine and settled back into my seat. The back of my chair was close to the toilet door and its users were clearly distracting Rosie who kept glancing over my shoulder. I pressed on but kept thinking that no matter how interesting I tried to be, I still had a lavatory as my backdrop.
Rosie had this time opted for the complete hippy uniform, beads, bangles and tie-dye trousers. She was young enough to get away with the look. Just. I have found that with bohemian types there comes a time when the carefree image takes on a frightening hue.
When they’re young floating around in fairy outfits they’re lovely, like something off a Parisian art-deco tobacco tin. However, once they hit middle age they go all saggy and Greenham Common. I reckoned Rosie had three more years before Glastonbury turned her face into a giant hand-bag.
“You’re an idiot,” she said.
We had been discussing capitalism. I didn’t think it was such a bad idea.
“All I’m saying is what’s wrong with a big supermarket providing jobs for local people? What does it matter if they’re a massive company, they’re giving jobs to the kids, right?”
Her eyes narrowed and I could tell that I had been reduced to a mere caricature.
We walked back to the station in silence. I eventually said, “you’re a bit prickly, you know.”
“I’m working on that.”
“Well work bloody harder.”
Was what I wanted to say – instead I settled for the rather bland and slightly antiquated:
We stopped at the station, destined for opposing platforms. I turned to leave but Rosie paused. I knew the signs well and despite my ennui slipped an arm around her waist and kissed her.
Moments later a passing suit jeered with encouragement. I turned to remonstrate with him but Rosie dug her fingers into my side.
“Don’t you dare,” she said.
I pulled away: “ok, this really has to be it.”
I stuck out my hand and she instinctively shook it.
“Goodnight, Rosie. You’re still very lovely.”
She nodded and headed off towards the other platform, bangles jangling as she went.
As soon as I got home, I logged on and finalised my next date. This one worked for some multi-national – that’s more like it I thought. Bryony from Beckenham, you may be the one for me.