Thursday, 1 March 2012

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

February's verdict on the year so far: bag o' shite. But it was gratifying to see good things finally happen to good people.

Since New Year, Nick and Julie's relationship had blossomed. Nick looked happier than I had ever seen him – not that I saw him all that much. He had already reached the “who needs mates” phase. But Julie was definitely good for him.

Perhaps she could do some good for me? After all, she was until recently a single woman, and single women often have single friends …

So it was that I broached the subject with Nick. And, yes, Julie did indeed have a single friend or two. One in particular: Mel, who was (in the language of the playground) gagging for it.

One of the myths of growing older is that you acquire more confidence. You don't: if anything it's the reverse. Every time you look in the mirror, and see those ageing features and expanding waistline, it knocks you back. Every time you reflect on the utter fuck-up that is your life, with all the failed relationships and hopeless one-sided infatuations, you realise how unlikely your dreams are ever to be realised.

But what you do acquire is the ability to not give a damn'. You have no faith whatsoever that that hot babe is going to want anything to do with you, but what you do have is an utter indifference to what the world at large thinks about you. Especially if you are a parent, you will have done all sorts of ridiculous, self-abasing things to amuse your children, then the prospect of a knock-back or a somewhat embarrassing situation with another adult is really nothing at all. That's what us old bastards mean when we say youth is wasted on the young. I know: most of mine was spent paralysed into inactivity, terrified by the thought of looking stupid.

So, when Nick told me about Mel I was already biased towards action. The obvious thing would have been to engineer some sort of social situation, in the course of which Mel and I could have met “naturally”. But, for various reasons, that proved to be a difficult call. So, the solution was obvious: let's have her number, and I'll call her up and ask her out for a drink. No messing.

None indeed. Obviously, Mel had heard about me, One of the key features in any courtship is the process of checking out each others friends. The nice, safe, stable couples who you can arrange civilised double-dates and dinner parties with. And the wild-cards: the singles, who will want to pull your partner away for dangerously unattached nights out, the ones who you fear will always seem to be having so much more fun …

If you can get them tied down, so much the better. If it's with one of your unattached friends, then it's double bubble – a potential threat removed, and another stable pairing created that you can safely spend time with.

So, I was not in the least surprised that Mel knew who I was. Nor was it surprising that she was game to meet up with a total stranger, given that we were of the same generation, and had both been through the divorce and dating mill.

Mel sounded refreshingly upbeat and straightforward, with none of coy evasiveness you get from some women. She also had the huge advantage of living just up the road, which meant I could see her at very short notice and take her somewhere extremely local, such as … the White Horse? I think not. You really do not want to take a first date to your local. Especially not if you have “friends” like mine who will make it their mission to throw you off your game and embarrass you as much as possible.

The date was swiftly arranged. I'd pick her up from her house at 8pm, and we'd go for a couple of drinks in one of the nicer local pubs which for some reason I had never spent much time in. No big deal, and no raised expectations on either side.

Of course, getting to pick her up and drop her off did offer a couple of advantages. As well as allowing me to play the gentleman, I also had the ideal venue for making my first move – the snug, private interior of my Alfa Romeo. If things went well, it would only be natural to enjoy a parting kiss when I drove her home – something that can be difficult to engineer if you both make your way there in your own cars.

So, when I say there were no raised expectations, that's not entirely true. I was, as usual, allowing my imagination to run away with me – picturing Mel and I together, picturing Mel herself …

When I did collect her, therefore, Mel unfortunately had some living up to do. I say unfortunate, because Nick had only filled me in one the most basic of details – she was forty-ish, slim, with dark hair and a penchant for leather boots. The latter detail had me expecting someone who's tastes perhaps ran to a little S&M; unfortunately, the reality was somewhat different.

The no-nonsense attitude should have been a warning. Mel was one of those women who didn't have time for a lot of things. Things like make-up, hair-styling, fashion, or any general girlishness or femininity. She was one of those girls who were very into netball or lacrosse while at school, and perhaps now played in a women's football league. She was, probably, very handy with a screwdriver, and (it transpired) drank halves of real ale with enthusiasm. I could picture the utter sensibleness of her underwear drawer; I doubted there was a single item from Agent Provocateur or Ann Summers (Charlotte's favourite, I remembered with a heavy heart).

Oh, she was by no means unpleasant company. The evening was anything but awkward or dull. But, it was just like going for a drink with some bloke, and at the end I had no desire to do anything other than drop her off and head home as quickly as possible.

I made my excuses the next day. How I needed to focus on getting back to the gym, and how busy I was going to be with my job for the next few weeks. And how great it would be to run into Mel at Nick's next party in the Supershed.