So, seconds out... Round Two. First up...
Physical :: Very tall and very dyed blonde. A certain superciliousness around the eyes; a certain disdain. I guess that a lot of people who go speed dating feel very strongly that they shouldn’t be there and therefore feel superior to all the other losers. I further suspect that most of the people who feel this way have the good sense and even the decency to try and hide it. Not so Tilly.
Tilly reminded me of Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, and not just physically. She also had the sneer off to a tee and was absolutely overflowing with hideous, hateful self-absorption. It didn’t surprise me one iota to discover that Tilly worked in television.
Mental :: You may even have seen her yourself, although it’s not massively likely. She’s not June Sarpong or anything. (Thank God.) And I don’t want to be indelicate here – tempting though it is to link to her website – but I will say that Tilly is a presenter on a certain type of – to my mind – fairly odious TV programme. Let’s call it ‘fact porn’, which doesn’t actually give too much away. And let’s leave it at that.
Tilly is the kind of person – in my most humble opinion – who has a very fixed idea of what she wants from a person, what she requires, and if it’s clear to her that you don’t fit any of those criteria, then not only will she have no time for you, but also, she’ll have no problem making that abundantly clear.
This was the only one of my dates which featured awkward silences, one of which I interrupted with the words, ‘Well, this is going well, isn’t it?’, to which Tilly replied, ‘Not really, no’. Which I thought was a little unnecessary. Then, having no idea how to respond to that outside of something equally unpleasant, I chose instead to treat Tilly to a long uninterrupted burst of my near-perfect and very annoying Peter Griffin laugh.
Tilly looked at me like giant toads had just started pouring from my open mouth, then with the words, ‘Actually, I have to make a call’, she got up and sashayed over to the bar. Making that Speed Dating Desertion Number Two.
Thankfully, six dates had ended desertion-free between Gloria and Tilly.
Physical :: Atiya was kind of exotic-looking. She was half Mauritian, half Danish. She was dark and sultry, with an amazing complexion and a wonderful chest, but also, there was something around the eyes that made her look ever so slightly like an gigantic simpleton. Actually, maybe if I hadn’t spoken to her, I would have interpreted it as a beatific openness, a delightful childlike fascination. But I did speak to her. And she was a simpleton.
Mental :: Atiya believes in fairies. And as far as I could make out, in Jiminy Cricket. Yeah, but, obviously, you’re thinking, if she said that, then she was merely having a bit of fun. She was being amusing. Well, I’m not so sure she was.
Atiya cites as her heroes Aleister Crowley, Kenneth Anger, Walt Disney and Louise Brooks. Running, rather elegantly, up the vein of her left forearm, the words, ‘Love is the law’ are tattooed. Meanwhile, her right forearm reads, ‘Love under will’. Apparently, running down her spine rather like - one imagines - an army of Satanic ants, are the words, 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’. She explained briefly that these are all Crowleyisms. Now I don’t know very much about Aleister Crowley, except for the fact that he was commonly known as The Beast and was generally considered the Wickedest Man in the World. Also, I came across him in Preston Sturges’ autobiography recently, as apparently he had a brief thing with Sturges’ rather eccentric mother in the 20s. Anyhow, the guy was obviously a major loon and a bad egg to boot and I wish I’d known something of his oft-expressed views on women before I met Atiya last week. I would like to have quizzed her about them. Ah, well. Maybe next time.
So, the dark arts are not the only arts in which Atiya is interested. She also makes films and jewellery, both of which - in her search for a soulmate, which is what the speed dating was all about for her - she enjoys talking about a great deal.
She showed me a film she’d made. It was on her mobile phone, which she rooted around for and eventually extracted from the huge Mary Poppins-like bag she kept on her lap. It was slightly difficult to make out exactly what was going on in the film but it seemed to consist of Atiya dressed as Alice moving slowly through a room which was decorated with hundreds of pairs of latex gloves hanging from the ceiling. She moved through this ridiculous environment the way one might move through an enchanted cave, regularly holding up her hands in badly-acted awe. What made it even sillier was the fact that attached to each of her fingers was a foot-long plastic nail.
‘You see my nails?’ she asked excitedly.
‘Oh, is that what they are? I wasn’t really….’
‘They are twelve inches long,’ she explained.
‘Are they really?’ I said. ‘Well I never.’ And when the film was done – I watched about thirty seconds of it – I asked her, ‘So what does it mean?’
This seemed to puzzle her. ‘It’s whatever you want it to be,’ she said. ‘It’s just life. It’s everything!’
‘OK,’ I said. ‘I see.’ Then as her head disappeared back inside her bag, I looked nervously around the room, expecting to see white-coated men with butterfly nets creeping up to our table. But no. Nothing.
‘Look at my earrings,’ she said, resurfacing. ‘I’ll show you.’
I laughed. ‘OK,’ I said. ‘Come on, own up. You’re having a laugh, right? You’re doing some kind of social experiment maybe. Or you have a column somewhere. Come on, you can tell me.’
She gave me her delighted simpleton face. ‘Life is a social experiment,’ she said.
‘Oh, don’t give me that,’ I said. ‘You can’t possibly be real.’
Then she laughed and clapped her hands together like a homosexual man. ‘I’m not!’ she cried. ‘Nothing is real!’
‘Oh, God,’ I said. ‘OK.’ I nodded.
The earrings she was holding up were extremely realistic representations of used condoms. I have no idea how she made them but as I say, they were very realistic. Right down to the teaspoonful of white liquid in the ends of each one.
‘What is that?’ I asked. ‘The white stuff.’
‘What do you think?’ she replied, beaming at me, so proud.
I just shook my head. ‘No, come on,’ I said. ‘You’re scaring me now.’
She laughed. ‘It is!’ she cried. ‘It’s real sperm!’
She held the condoms up to her ears. ‘Wow,’ I said. ‘You’re like the porno version of The Girl With The Pearl Earrings. The Girl With The Pearl Necklace Earrings.’
I looked around the room again. A couple of the other couples were looking on, smirking and enjoying themselves. Atiya was the perfect conversation piece. I even thought that maybe she’d been laid on by the organisers. Maybe she was there every week, just to keep things lively.
Just as our date was coming to an end, Atiya took a red transparent sweet wrapper from her bag and held it up to the lamplight at the side of the room. She then proceeded to look through it like a child gazing into a kaleidoscope, turning it slowly to the left and to the right. ‘This is really amazing,’ she said. ‘Here.’ She handed me the wrapper. I stared at her for a while, waiting for her to laugh. In fact, I stared at her as if giant toads had just started pouring from her open mouth. ‘Try it,’ she insisted. ‘The world looks so different this way.’
I tried it. I held the sweet wrapper to my face and looked through it. Jeremy Beadle is dead, I thought, I am not being filmed for bad television. Although that would maybe explain why that cow Tilly was here.
‘Wow,’ I said. ‘Do you think this is how fairies see the world?’ I asked.
‘Yes!!!’ she cried, clapping her hands together three times, as if to summon one.
And that, more or less, was that.
Odd. Really, really odd.
And I could be wrong here – I could be very very very wrong – but there was something in the way she looked at me at the end of our date… I reckon – as I say, I could be wrong – but I reckon she’d definitely do me. But the fact is, desperate though I may be to bury my face in the nether regions of a beautiful woman, or indeed any woman, it would feel too much like taking advantage of a mental patient. And besides that, I probably am wrong.
Physical :: Melanie is what my wonderful racist pseudo-Chinese landlord would term ‘a half-caste’. She is what Keith, particularly when stoned, would call ‘a caramel honey’. Apart from a voluptuousness which makes my fingers twitch with desire, Melanie is fairly nondescript in that way that beautiful people can be. You know, perfect eyes, perfect mouth, perfect everything. Adorable. Breathtaking. Like a tropical sunset. With slightly chubby trees waving in the foreground.
Melanie was my final date, and – as I’d been glancing over at her every once in a while during the changeovers all evening – the one I was most looking forward to. I sat down opposite her at 10.45.
Mental :: Melanie read my name aloud from my badge. Then she shook my hand and said, ‘I don’t know about you but if I have to explain what I do one more time tonight, I think I might have to scream.’
‘I know what you mean,’ I said. ‘I tell you what then, how about, instead of the usual chit-chat paddywhack, I just tell you a story?’
And her eyes lit up, I swear.
‘That sounds great,’ she said. ‘That sounds perfect. I love stories.’
So, I ascertained – in the traditional manner – that she was sitting comfortably. And I began.
‘Once upon a time there was a little boy called Edgar Godsick. Edgar was born in a time of great sadness in the middle of a long, dark winter in the north of England. What made matters even worse was that Edgar was born with two heads.’
Melanie laughed. Then she said, ‘Awww, poor Edgar.’
‘I know,’ I said. ‘Imagine that…
‘At first, his parents were shocked and afraid, and they made Edgar sleep in a drawer. Then after a couple of weeks, when Edgar’s second head didn’t look like going anywhere, they grew angry. They seemed to blame Edgar for his congenital singularity. “Why can’t you have one head like everyone else, you little monster?” they screamed at him. But Edgar didn’t understand. He just looked up at his parents with his little brows furrowed, one set of eyes pointing at his mother, one at his father.
‘Edgar’s parents took their son to the doctor and said, “Our son is a two-headed freak. What are you going to do about it?” The doctor just smiled, although he wasn’t happy, and he said, “Well, what would you like me to do about it?” Exasperated, Edgar’s parents replied, “Why, cut off one of his heads, of course!” The doctor looked at Edgar’s parents quizzically. “But if we cut off one of his heads, your son will die. And you don’t want that, do you?” Edgar’s parents looked at one another but said nothing. “Look,” said the doctor. “Edgar seems perfectly happy with his two heads. And he’s perfectly healthy, so why not try just accepting his extra head and learn to love him anyway? Maybe you could even love him that little bit extra because of his extra head? After all, he’s practically twins.” The doctor smiled. “What do you think?” he said. “I know your son’s second head is a tad unusual, but it’s not the end of the world. And they do say that two heads are better than one. Don’t they? Eh?” He smiled. Edgar’s parents did not smile back. In fact, they scowled, affronted by this imbecile’s levity. “Fine,” they said. “Well, if you won’t help us, we’ll just have to help ourselves.” And off they went.
‘That night at home, Edgar couldn’t sleep. He was hungry. Like most babies, when he was hungry and couldn’t sleep, Edgar cried. Unlike most babies of course, Edgar had two mouths, so when he cried, he was twice as loud. Before very long, Edgar’s mother stormed into his room, shouting at her husband to get out of bed and help.
‘As soon as Edgar was born, Edgar’s mother decided against feeding him herself. The very thought of both of those freakish heads clamped to her breasts made her feel physically ill. Instead, to stop her son’s noise, she stuffed one plastic bottle into one of his mouths while her husband stuffed another into the other. Ten minutes later and Edgar was sound asleep.
‘As he lay there, sleeping, his parents stood over him, shaking their heads. “Why did it happen to us,” asked his mother. “What did we do to deserve such an aberration, such a crime against nature?”
‘“We mustn’t blame ourselves,” said Edgar’s father. “It’s just bad luck.”
‘Edgar’s mother closed her eyes. “Well, I can’t live like this,” she said. “I can’t.” And so saying, she marched out of her son’s bedroom and into the kitchen, returning seconds later with a large bread knife.
‘Her husband’s mouth fell open. “You can’t,” he gasped. “He’s just a baby.”
‘“No, he’s not,” Edgar’s mother snapped. “Babies don’t have two heads. He’s a freak. He’s an animal. The world will be a better place without him.” And with that she moved closer to Edgar and raised the bread knife above his heads.
‘“No,” said Edgar’s father. “I’ve got a better idea.”
‘Edgar’s father then snatched up his son and wrapped him in a scratchy blanket. Placing the scratchy blanket on the backseat of this car, he then drove for four hours to an old church in the small, dark village where he had grown up. He knew the priest there was a good man and would take care of Edgar and give him the life that he deserved. Or else he would assume that Edgar had been sent by the Devil and he would kill him. Either way, Edgar’s parents would be shot of him and they’d be free to return to their nice, normal lives.’
Melanie wiped a little tear away from her eye, but I assumed it was only a pretend tear. ‘Poor little Edgar,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t his fault he was born with two heads.’
‘I know!’ I cried. ‘Life can be so cruel.’
‘Did you make that up?’ she asked.
I nodded and blinked.
‘Not just there and then though?’ she asked.
‘No,’ I had to admit. Neither can I pretend that I told it to Melanie as well as I’ve just told it to you. But apart from some stuttering and minor blushing – I was strangely nervous at the beginning – I think I did OK. I told her that I’d written the first chapter of the Edgar story a while ago, but that I’d never told it to anyone before. She said she was honoured. I agreed that she was.
‘What happens next?’ she wanted to know. ‘Do you know?’
‘Not really,’ I said. ‘Well, I know that the priest is not very nice to him. You know what priests are like.’
Melanie scrunched up her face. ‘Don’t even go there,’ she said.
‘No,’ I agreed. ‘Best not. Then I think he’s rescued from the priest and taken round the country as part of a modern-day freak show. I see it as kind of a children’s version of The Elephant Man.’
‘Cool,’ said Melanie. ‘I like it. I really do.’
‘I believe you,’ I said, perhaps slightly smugly.
‘Is it possible to be born with two heads though?’
'Yeah,’ I said. ‘Doesn’t really matter though. It’s just a story. But yeah, it happens now and then. But then there are all kinds of freaks in this world, aren’t there? Take me, for example. I’m something of a freak myself.’
‘Oh, come on,’ she said. ‘You’re an unusual-looking bloke, I’ll give you that. But you’ve hardly got two heads.’
‘No,’ I conceded. ‘I suppose not.’
‘Are you a writer then? Is that what you do?’
I told her not really. But that I’d like to be. I told her I’d love to write a children’s book about a little boy with two heads. I told her that it is my curse that instead of writing children’s books about boys with two heads, that I have instead to write a bunch of corporate guff that no one ever really reads. And why would they?
‘So are you trying to write other stuff?’ she asked.
‘I am,’ I said. ‘I’m trying.’
‘Good,’ she said. And she nodded. ‘I like a man with ambition.’
Then we talked about books for a while and simply because Melanie liked many of the same books that I did, I fell just a little bit in love with her. There and then. A short while later, I said: ‘So what’s your ambition, Melanie?’
‘I want to save the world,’ said Melanie. And a second later, Satan rang the bell that signified that the last date of the evening was over.
I ignored it. ‘And how do you plan to save the world, Melanie?’ I found that I really enjoyed using her name. It occurred to me that I might want to use it forever. I was drunk. But sincere. Then I noticed that her glass was empty, so I asked her if I could get her another drink, but somehow I realised that our date really was over. I guess it was in her eyes.
‘I’d like to,’ she said, ‘but I’ve really got to get going.’
‘Oh, surely you can’t leave it there,’ I said, ever so slightly petulantly. ‘The world needs to be saved, Melanie, and I need to know how it’s going to happen. Please.’
Oh dear. I was begging. How unbecoming.
‘I’m really sorry,’ she said, and to everyone’s credit, she did look it. ‘I promised one of the other guys I’d go on somewhere with him.’
I turned my head to follow Melanie’s gaze to the bar. Please, God, I thought instinctively, don’t let it be Keith.
It wasn’t. Oh. Then I felt sorry that it wasn't Keith. At least if it had been Keith, and he and Melanie started going out, I’d definitely see her again, and there’d always be the chance that when Keith fucked up, I could get involved on the rebound again, as is my wont.
Actually, I didn’t think any of that till much later.
‘Aaaah,’ I said, checking out the other bloke. ‘He’s quite a catch. Well done.’ I sounded bitter, and I hated myself for it. So I smiled to try and counteract the bitterness, but it was a bitter smile, so it rather backfired.
‘It’s just a drink,’ said Melanie. ‘I honestly don’t think it’ll go anywhere, but he works for Amnesty, and I’ve got a soft spot for compassionate men.’
I enjoyed the fact that she was at least attempting to sweeten the bitter pill of rejection by voicing her doubts, but at the same time I felt a bit pathetic.
I wanted her.
‘Well, look,’ I said, ‘I hope it all goes really well and it was magnificent talking to you, it really was.’ She reciprocated, which was nice. ‘I think you’re rather lovely as it goes,’ I continued suavely, ‘and if you ever want to continue the conversation, you should definitely give me a call.’
‘Well, I’d need your number for that,’ said Melanie.
‘Well, you’d better take it,’ I said, and she took out her mobile phone and keyed in my details.
‘Are you going to give me yours?’ I asked.
‘Nah,’ she said. ‘This way I get to retain all the power. Which is exactly how I like it.’
And with that, she stood up, gave me a peck on the elbow of my right temple and left with another man.
Two hours later, I lay down on my bed, naked, alone and monumentally aroused. I thought of Melanie - whom I definitely love - and I thought about the fact that she was probably tied up with Mr Amnesty at that exact moment. Yes, as I lay there forlornly fondling my futile engorgement, she was probably naked in his bed, hungrily lapping at his philanthropic cock as he read out a list of political prisoners he’d helped emancipate. No doubt I was long-forgotten. Me and my dumb-ass two-headed baby stories.
I felt sorry for myself. So I had a wank and went to sleep.
In reality though, loneliness aside, I went to sleep feeling really good. Like I'd said to Cindy, it wasn’t about finding a girlfriend. It was about going speed dating. And I’d done it. I’d got off my flabby cheeks and I’d gone out and talked to a bunch of (mostly very) strange women without too much shame. Actually without any shame. And without too much embarrassment. And six months ago, I would never, ever, ever have dared.
So well done me.
And you know what? I may even do it again.
(But not for a while.)
(Post-match analysis tomorrow.)
Thursday, 10 July 2008
So, seconds out... Round Two. First up...