When you first start seeing someone, the choice of dating activity is crucial. In London many of us like to visit the pub where social pressure is minimal. As far as I am concerned, the pub is fit for purpose – why take an iconoclastic approach to dating? Dating is difficult enough as it is without the additional burden of having to consider a myriad of venues and activities.
I have however noticed a growing appetite for ‘quirky’ dates. A raft of zany pursuits are now on offer for the adventurous romantic, anything from rock climbing to salsa dancing; walking tours, scenic cycle rides, even ‘toilet dating’ – the list is as long as it is baffling. As it stands, I frequently ridicule myself in ordinary venues, turning the event into a minor ‘bucket-list’ exercise would only enhance the likelihood of humiliation. Nevertheless, I can see why fledgling companies propagate this nonsense, in a saturated market (where something as ludicrous as speed-dating is old hat) newcomers have to stand out – unless their USP is a humdinger, they are finished.
I have experienced the horror of the alternative date first hand – last month, I inadvertently took a lady shopping. I should say this was not ‘Pretty Woman’ style jewellery shopping but a functional exercise as I needed new headphones – a banal task, only one increment up from the weekly ‘big shop’.
It was a rainy Saturday afternoon and I was with Daisy on Tottenham Court road. Trapped with the disparate pedestrians, it was like a macabre Victorian etching, men hung in doorways in their sodden suits as a stream of jowly faces paraded by. I took Daisy’s hand.
“Beware, the pickpockets,” I said, and she nodded.
We entered a boutique electronics shop. There were boxes strewn everywhere, glass cabinets contained a variety of budget phones, a neon sign advertised the ubiquitous, pseudo-criminal, ‘unlocking’ service. Large TV screens were showing a distant conflict on the evening news. I felt as though we had walked into a dystopian future.
“Can I help you, sir?”
The assistant was a young middle-eastern man.
“Sure, I need to get some headphones. I was thinking about the big overhead ones, which do you recommend?”
I turned to Daisy, “I’m really into music, so I have to get big headphones.”
“Really?” She said.
The man pulled down an expensive pair.
“These are very popular,” he said, then reached for another, “these too are popular.” He turned them over, “very popular.”
“Well, my friend, I want the most popular ones,” then to Daisy, “I don’t mess around, you know.”
“I can see that.”
I tried on a pair, plugged in my iPhone and played the Beastie Boys. The bass thudded through my head, lionising me. The New York trio delivered their rapid onslaught and I momentarily felt like an urban warrior-king. I turned to Daisy with my ‘music-face’, a pouty grimace. She sniggered.
“What?” I said, removing them.
“Seriously, big headphones are ok now.”
And indeed they were, until recently they had been the preserve of the enthusiast. Now, they were everywhere in London. I selected a red and white pair, allegedly the most popular – inevitably the most expensive.
Back on the street, a man with a large map barred our way. The antique monstrosity caught the wind like a paper sail – he shimmied forward to reign it in and we slipped by. A wave of people cut across us, dishevelled weekenders with rumpled theatre guides.
“I just need to pop into the bike shop quickly,” I said.
Daisy smiled but her eyes were heavy.
“You know how to show a girl a good time,” she said.
With more force than required, I pulled the door open and marched towards the counter. I recognised the assistant from a recent visit. Daisy wandered in behind me. I was losing her, I needed to hasten the transaction.
“Hey, my man,” I said to the assistant, “how’s it going? What’s new in the cycling world?”
“How can I help, sir?” He said.
I noted the lack of reciprocal banter and asked for the saddle I had researched online. He showed me a display model and spoke of its merits. I heard Daisy sigh behind me.
“You can always raise it a little higher,” the assistant said, “if you want a more aggressive riding position.”
“How can raising the seat be aggressive? It’s just sitting on a high seat, what’s aggressive about that?”
I turned to Daisy, but she was flicking through a cycling magazine. The assistant shrugged and we completed the transaction in silence.
Outside, it was still raining heavily. We hopped from one awning to the next, Daisy skipping the puddles in her heels – we passed a chemist and I tapped her on the arm.
“Just one more thing,” I said, “do you mind?”
She didn’t say anything.
I said, “or maybe we should just go to the pub now, what do you think?”
She produced a magazine from her bag and held it over her head.
“No,” she said, “what do you think?”
I pictured my bare bathroom cabinet, Daisy looked up at me and pulled a few strands of hair away from her face. More decisions – this was impossible.