One of the perks of writing a dating blog is that I hold the editing power. I don’t have to include the less-than-brilliant moments, which expose me as human and fallible. Like the fact that three minutes before I was due to meet James near Oxford Circus on Monday evening, I could be found sitting on a bench, coffee in hand, pondering a friend’s housing dilemma – in Hyde Park. My phone flashes up with a message.
‘Sorry, got held up at work, going to be a few mins late – but not too many hopefully….x’
That’s odd, I think, looking at my watch. We’re not due to meet for… oh SHIT.
I grab my bag, do some quick mental calculations, and start running in the direction of what I hope is Marble Arch. At the subway entrance I hit send on a breathy apology.
The gods are smiling on me: a train pulls up as I arrive on the platform. Bond Street… Oxford Circus. At the ticket barriers, I search my pockets. Nothing. I put my bags down, and root around in their depths. Bingo! Muttering expletives, I dash through the barriers.
On the pavement, I try to dredge up the memory of the street plan I’d googled earlier that day. I start running northwards, dodging pedestrians. Ahead is what looks like a concert hall. It should be the next building.
I scan the courtyard, then check my watch. Ten past. Not too bad, but still, I don’t think he’ll like it. I toss back a mint and rush inside. No sign of him.
‘Hello,’ I say to the man at reception. ‘I’m here for the comedy…’
‘I am the comedy’ might be more appropriate, given what follows.
‘Just off to your left, Madam.’
Madam goes left, and that’s when I see him, standing in what must be the side entrance, frowning at his phone. I smile and go over to him.
‘Hello! I’m so sorry! My excuse is a very poor one. I just found out a friend might be made homeless and I was a bit distracted – and for some reason thought it was 8 we were meeting.’ I pause for breath. ‘I’m so sorry. I hope we’re not too late for it. When does it start?’
‘Hello. Don’t worry.’ I can’t quite tell if he means it. ‘Not til 7.30, so we’re OK.’
Security waves us over. ‘Bags please.’
‘It’s like an airport!’
James concurs. We deposit our bags in plastic boxes, ready for the scanner. I hold out my jacket.
‘Is there anything in it, Madam? A wallet or phone?’
‘Then you can take it through with you.’
I approach the lady with the handheld scanner. She looks at the jacket.
‘Has that been through the scanner?’
‘Oh, no. Your colleague said it didn’t–.’
‘It needs to go through.’
I double back, giving James a weak smile.
Jacket-free, I get the green light, and go over to where the bags are accumulating.
‘You’ve got a fork, Madam,’ the guard says.
I look down at my bracelet, a remodeled silver fork, and make to take it off.
‘In your bag,’ he says, pointing.
Oh God. I find the offending article. The prongs are wrapped in kitchen paper from when I didn’t have time to wash it at lunch.
‘Would you like to collect it after?’
‘No, don’t worry.’ I glance behind me. James is out of earshot. ‘Actually…’
He appears at my side.
‘… no, it’s fine, you can chuck it.’
‘Would you sign here, Madam?’
James is looking mildly curious. I don’t say anything, but take the clipboard and sign. I’m about to turn away.
‘And here please.’
The guard holds out the bagged fork, ready for me to write on the label. I’ll have to come clean, which is more than can be said for the fork.
‘It’s a fork,’ I say, reddening. James’ expression is hard to read, somewhere between bafflement and amusement. I nod in the direction of the theatre. ‘I don’t think we need to go in there for the comedy!’
We go through to the bar. I can feel beads of sweat forming on my brow and lip, the legacy of my earlier sprint. And I need the loo.
‘Shall we get a drink?’ he says.
‘Mmm some water would be good.’
The barman brings two glasses. I take a sip. A voice comes over the speakers, calling for holders of tickets 1-50. I can feel my face glistening.
‘It really is like an airport!’ I say, looking anywhere but at James. ‘Shall we find a table?’
Once seated, conversation turns to the show.
‘It’s perfect,’ I say, brushing sweat from my lip. Except that sweat won’t be brushed, not really. ‘Cos I’m trying to write a radio script at the minute.’
‘I didn’t realize.’
‘Yes.’ More ineffective brushing. ‘It’s about – no that’s a stage thing – what’s the one for radio I’m doing? – this bodes well!’
James is looking at me the way a doctor might look at a mentally ill patient: a mixture of pity, puzzlement and despair. Which, by anyone’s dating standards, isn’t great.
By the time our ticket numbers are called, things are looking up. The sweating has subsided, and we’re agreeing it takes a lot to make us laugh.
I laugh pretty much non-stop for the next three hours. Must have been the coffee.