Bad dates

The Aspidistra

Stats: 34, 5’9”, mousey brown/blue, hometown unknown
When: Summer 2011
Where: South London
Pre-date rating: 6/10

I’m not really a fan of slogans. They belong to cheesy adverts and the kind of T-shirts I used to wear in the early 2000s. If I’ve something to say, I prefer to say it directly; mottos, maxims and proverbs are not my thing. One slogan I do have a fondness for, however, is ‘shop local’. It’s nice to keep things in the neighbourhood, to contribute to the good of the community, and so it is that I find myself in a bar not a 20-minute walk from my house, waiting for the next Guy. I’ve spread the Guyliner magic – or should that be tragic – far and wide, but I don’t want the boys next door to miss out. They deserve to see why I’m so utterly ineligible for themselves.

Local boys are usually sourced via Grindr; GPS doing all the hard work and the instant messenger-style chat ensuring you dispense with the formalities early on and cut straight to the chase – not that anybody is running particularly fast.

Tonight’s Guy, however, has been found the new old-fashioned way, from the dating site. We’ve paid to meet each other, which has to be a good sign, right? Well, let’s hope so. While the chat between us, over email, has been light and polite, when it comes to arranging somewhere to go, we meet our first hitch. He really doesn’t want to decide where to go on the date. I understand his trepidation to a degree; the venue you select can say much more about you than any amount of electronic chitchat can do. A poor choice of location can speedily reveal the personality flaws you are so eager to conceal. I don’t press the issue, and, as he lives quite near me, choose a delightful pub equidistant from our homes, with ample space and a good drinks menu. Our date is midweek, so it’s important not to meet somewhere too dead. An essential part of a date is people watching. If the endless chat about your families and pastimes starts to dry up like reheated shepherd’s pie, you can easily move on to a running commentary on the crowds around you – as long as there’s a crowd to talk about.

He agrees the pub is a good choice and I look forward to the date. Within an hour or two, however, he’s back in touch. He’s decided he doesn’t like the venue after all, as he won’t be able to get a direct bus there. I see. Am I wrong to feel a little irked? The pub is practically walkable from where he lives, and if he really likes me surely he would save his nitpicking for another date – not to mention that he couldn’t be bothered choosing somewhere more convenient himself in the first place.  Finally, he suggests somewhere else, and I acquiesce, as it’s a slightly handier place to get to for me. But why didn’t he just propose it earlier?

So here I am. I have never been particularly fond of this pub. The menu is fish-heavy and the scent of it hangs in the air. Its clientele are making the awkward journey over broken glass between hipsterville and settling down; they swig guest beers and share platters of dough sticks and potted haddock and try not to think about their biological clocks. I, on the other hand, have a regular old pint in front of me, much-dwindled thanks to my date being 20 minutes late. There have been no texts or calls to explain why, but if he’s in a hurry to get here – and he’d better be – he won’t be stopping to text pleasantries.

Just as I’m wondering whether I should get another drink in so it looks like I just arrived, he comes through the door, wearing a crumpled T-shirt, faded jeans and a frown. He walks over to me, looking neither disappointed nor particularly thrilled. He just is. I eagerly await his first words.

“You’re here,” he says plainly.
I ignore the obviousness of his statement and thrust out my hand, offering up my name and a “how are you?” to show that his lateness hasn’t bothered me, although he doesn’t seem particularly concerned by it himself. He slumps down on his bar stool so, as I’m still standing, I offer to get him a drink and he tells me what he wants. I slope over to the bar, disheartened that he doesn’t even bother turning round to watch my arse as I walk away from him.

It’s clear from the get-go that this Guy isn’t accustomed to dating, at least not the normal kind. Sure, he asks questions, but they’re all a bit weird, like he’s reading them out from a sex quiz or is on his seventh round at a speed-dating evening. What kind of car would I be? What kind of meal would I cook for the Prime Minister? The dreaded question about my wish list of dinner party guests alive or dead and, weirdest of all, what kind of potplant I would be.

These questions would be more charming toward the end of the evening, if we were a little drunk perhaps, but it’s 7 on a Wednesday, this is my second drink and he hasn’t even asked where I’m from and what I do yet. I never realised I’d miss those bog-standard, drivelling questions until they didn’t show up.

I’m still ruminating over the potplant question. What should I say? Venus fly trap? Cheese plant? Deadly nightshade? Maybe the questions would work better if he threw in some jokey suggestions or kept talking while I chewed them over, but for each one he stares in silence until I come up with my responses. Finally, having mentally taken a trip round every garden centre I can ever remember visiting, I come up with my answer: a spider plant. I’m fairly adaptable, don’t take too much looking after and even when you cut a bit off, I can thrive.

The last part is a joke, obviously, but the look on his face makes me think he is now imagining I have lost my penis in a horrible accident.

“And what about you?” I say, desperate to somehow get off this whole topic and, if I’m honest, away from this date, which is going nowhere at a rate of knots.
“I’d be an aspidistra,” he quips immediately. He answers all these questions far too quickly. He’s been practising. I try to visualise an aspidistra. I can’t think of a remarkable feature about them. I then look back at my date. OK, it fits.
“Why an aspidistra?”
“Well, I’m thoroughly middle-class,” he says proudly, “and every living room should have one.” Perfectly rehearsed.
I laugh. “Great answer!”

I decide to move things back into normal mode. I know that he’d make beef Wellington for the Prime Minister and that he’d have Che Guevara and Lauren Bacall at his ideal dinner party but I know nothing about his job, his life, anything.

“So what do you do?” I ask brightly. This proves to by my fatal error. He works on a classical music magazine and is a music teacher. You’d think that music must be his passion, but neither metier seems to fill him with inspiration. He hates his colleagues, his students, classical music, playing music, musical instruments, music fans, and people who don’t like music. He loathes publishers, journalists, awards, the charts, singers, failed musicians, venues… the list goes on. The one thing he will admit to liking is Whitney Houston. Once he’s done with serving up his bile, he sits back in his chair, with a poker face welded to the front of his head. He folds his arms and nods his head. “So that’s me,” he says finally.

At that moment, the barman comes to collect our empties. “Another drink, gents?” he says amiably, oblivious to the iceberg slowly forming across the table. My date shrugs. I look from him to the barman, and back to my empty glass.

I begin to shake my head, but stop myself. My date has just unloaded all his woes and dislikes onto me like a dumper truck at a landfill, and all I had to say was that I’d be a fucking spider plant? Nuh-huh, I don’t think so. It’s been a long hour. Now it’s my turn to spout.

“Yes, thanks,” I say, “beer for me.” I gesture my head toward my impassive date. “And this smiler’s buying.”

Post-date rating: 4/10
Date in one sentence: A local potplant learns his lines wordperfect but fails to photosynthesise his way into my affections

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