The day of Date No 1 dawned. I’d planned to wear a Gucci hanky skirt, heels and NavyGrey sweater, but as it was zero degrees, and even though the venue had erected a tent, I’ve seen Scott of the Antarctic, so opted for toothpick jeans, biker boots and a pea coat. I got to the hotel early. I found our table in a remote corner. I’d dressed the three collies in fluoro padded jackets, and as they formed a ring around me, it was as though I was flanked by tiny police officers.
The old me would have ordered champagne, knocked it back, hidden the glass in a plant pot. The new me ordered fizzy water. I saw him walk up to the lectern. He was wearing dark glasses. Perhaps he was worried about snow blindness.
As he walked towards me, I noticed he was in skinny jeans, cowboy boots. No heads swivelled to look, which I know will have bugged him a little. I stood and he leaned to kiss me on one cheek. ‘I’ve not met this one,’ he said, ruffling Missy’s forehead. Good. He Named That Collie.
The next thing he said, as he whipped off his shades, was: ‘I thought you’d be wearing a skirt.’
Me: ‘It’s snowing!’
Me: ‘I no longer drink. Plus, I have collies on board.’
Him: ‘Fun for me!’
I looked up at the waitress. ‘Can I have a vegan menu?’
He rolled his eyes: ‘Are you sure you won’t be getting back with whatshisname?’
Me: ‘No. I asked him, just as I asked you, how he wanted to proceed in an ideal world, and he didn’t reply.’
Him: ‘Don’t blame him.’
I kept thinking of the last couple of days’ preparation in case he became mad with lust, decided to ditch the visit to see the new Meatloaf*, and came back to my cottage. Fresh bedlinen. Log basket filled. Man things in fridge…
Then he said: ‘I have a gift for you!’ He stood and rummaged in his jacket pocket. And in that moment, 30-odd years of feminist conditioning and self-defence classes fell by the wayside. I thought for a moment a little padded box would emerge. My eyes must have widened as he said, pulling a blank CD case from his inside pocket, ‘Don’t get too excited.’ It was his new album.
Me: ‘I don’t have anything to play it on. Gracie ate my Bang & Olufsen; now I only stream music.’
‘You can play it in your car. It’s old enough.’
And it dawned on me. How many times have I met a man at a luxury hotel to have him spoil it for me? My niece’s wedding in Edinburgh? I didn’t get to hear the speeches. Lime Wood Hotel in the New Forest? I didn’t get to eat my main course. Lunch at the River Café? Aborted as soon as the man, who wasn’t paying, said, ‘The panna cotta tastes burnt.’ My wedding night at Babington House? And on and on. The nicer the venue, the worse they behave.
I ignored him, and waved at the waitress. ‘Can I have the broccoli with hazelnuts, and sourdough with olive oil? Am starved!’
‘Of course!’ she said. ‘It’s so lovely to see the famous Gracie again**! And for you?’
‘Stevie Wonder’s not staying,’ I said. She backed away nervously.
‘You are fun when you’re sober,’ he said.
Me: ‘I have a disease.’
Me: ‘Haha. No. Ménière’s disease. Makes me completely deaf. Means I can’t drink, or operate cranes, or go swimming.’
‘You hate swimming,’ he said. ‘Your body dysmorpwhatsit.’
‘Yes, but I would have liked to have had the option. Thanks for the empathy.’
He stood up. Missy, disloyally, licked his hand. He threw a tenner on the table, as though he were in a saloon. The waitress returned. ‘At least Gracie behaved!’ she said, clearing plates. Roll on Date No 2!
**Famous for having done a runny poo in the bar