I bump into Friend en route to the tube and she can see I’m wearing my date outfit: skinny jeans in high boots and a sort of rock chick top that reveals little, but taken as a whole conjures three words: smart, sensuous, sassy. I hope.
“Funny how we all wanted to be nurses when we were little girls,” she smiles looking at the headline on my Evening Standard: ‘The Medical Director of NHS England says “system is creaking under pressure”’.
“So,” says Friend, “another date? Why this particular guy?”
“Profile reads well enough – at least he can punctuate his prose.”
“And his photo?”
“Not so hot.”
“Good luck, then.”
She can laugh, but I decided early on not to be a photo Nazi on the date sites. Some of the best-looking guys in the world have been dinner dolts, bedroom bores or, most unforgivably, both. And it’s not that I’m selling the classic cliché: look for the inner beauty. I just want what works – for me. My personalised body/brain biomix.
And so it is that each time I head for the tube, I travel hopefully… as I do this time on my way to meet ‘Nick’.
The pub is pretty-well packed. I’m perched on the edge of a large club fender by a faux fire when he arrives. And here’s the moment: the nanoscopic, molecular stuff that transpires and expires in a second.
He’s smiling, which is always nice. Don’t judge, I remind myself.
But I do, because we all do.
I look for the gait, the level of his shoulders, his choice of clothing, his movement through people, the power of his gaze, the projection of his energy, his smile (faked or not?), his confidence at the bar, whether those are hands you want unbuttoning whatever you have on (with buttons), whether he’s someone who wears his skin lightly. And whether he has thighs that belong on a man who can get sex when he wants to.
I buy us both a large glass of Sauvignon and he squidges in close beside me on the club fender. Ten minutes of tube talk gets us through the initial blurb stage. Nick doesn’t tell me his precise postcode, but when he ‘lets slip’ that he’s an extremely well-off hedge fund manager, I’m no longer in the dark as to his financial acuity.
“I love your hair,” he says barely half way through his first glass of wine. “Lovely hair…” He reaches across and touches the lengths dropping past my shoulder.
I thank him. Do I like him touching my hair? No, I don’t. And yet, I love my hair being touched, pulled, yanked – or even ponied.
I can feel he’s not listening to what I’m saying when I answer a question. I sense him evaluating my features, ticking boxes. Does it truly take longer for men to work this stuff out?
“I really like your hair,” he says again and touches once more.
Oh shit – I start wondering whether he has shelves of naked Barbie dolls in his living room, taking one down each evening to groom while watching Channel 4 News. Or maybe he buys bags of real hair direct from Latvian hairdressers, curls some over his scalp and jacks off looking into the bathroom mirror.
Then the smile slides from his face and the dark eyes darken.
“There’s something I need to tell you.”
He nudges up even closer and puts his hand on my thigh.
“There’s something I need to tell you because… I really like you.”
He really likes me? What the fuck? We’ve been sitting by the faux-fire for barely twenty minutes. What does I really like you mean?
a) I really like you
b) I really fancy the arse off you
c) I really want this dating malarkey over with and you’ll do nicely, probably
“Okay…” I try to smile encouragingly.
“I want to be upfront – it’s important to be upfront, isn’t it?”
“Yep, I suppose it is.”
And so he tells me.
“I had bowel cancer twelve years ago.”
“Oh… no! Sorry to hear that, Nick.”
Squeeze of thigh.
“It’s fine, really. I have no more chance of getting it again than you or anyone else, actually.”
Big smile – big sip.
“Well, that’s good news, then.”
“Yes,” he replies ordering the most expensive bottle of white on the menu. “But there have been ramifications.”
“I see. Like what?”
“Lovely hair… lovely hair,” he now seems to be smelling it. “Well, you see, surgery has left me impotent.”
“Oh dear, am sorry to hear that, but surely that’s OK – because you have grown-up children?”
“No, you don’t understand. I can’t get an erection.”
And yes, I kid you not, this is barely twenty minutes into our first date. I’d expect to still be on the ‘Yes, I love Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer, too’ kind of lines. What can he possibly want me to say? “It’s simply not important, darling. Our bond will carry us through – my love for you is on the sort of psycho-sexual-spiritual plane that Sting can only dream of?”
“Oh. I really am very sorry, but thank god for Viagra, eh?”
When the couple next to us on the fender leave in a hurry (honestly, no idea why) I’m able to shuffle away a little, but suddenly feel I can’t, because if I do it’s as good as saying he’s a freak.
“Viagra doesn’t work for me,” he says taking a swig and refilling both our glasses. “But there is something I can do if I really like a woman and, well, I really like you…”
“What’s that?” I say, unfortunately not guessing what comes next.
“Well, I can inject the base of my cock, but to be honest, I’d like – in time – for you to do that for me, as foreplay.”
Inject a man’s cock as part of foreplay?
Strictly speaking, I’m not afraid of needles. Could it be a turn on – stabbing a man’s cock? Oh boy, suddenly I’m thinking of Lorena Bobbitt chopping off her husband’s and I want out. Friend – and others – will tell you I’m extremely open-minded, and I suppose had I warmed to the man, and felt an inch of what I’m seeking, I’d have been unafraid to needle him anywhere he bloody-well wanted me to stick it in.
But that’s all I could come up with: I see.
I see what? I see a rich, successful man who would quite probably trade it all in for a working cock. Well, wouldn’t you, in his position? I see a kind of trouser panic: surely most men would drop that bombshell at a subsequent meeting when the woman might possibly have formed a feeling, the teeniest investment of liking. Then perhaps the bombshell provokes not so much a get me the hell out of here but more of a hmm, not sure, let’s see what happens.
The upshot of that evening? We got very drunk and, as we headed for the tube, there was a sort of gropey kiss and I felt the redundant pelvic area grind into mine for a few moments before we took opposite lines home.
The following day, Friend calls to ask how it went with Mr Punctuation.
“Really not quite the use of a colon that I was expecting.”