It’s 2007. I’m sitting in a country pub in Buckinghamshire with a new date. This is our first meeting together. We’re making small talk and enjoying the sunshine. To be honest, I’m starting to suffer from dating fatigue. I think I’ve been overdoing it. My record so far is two separate dates in the same evening. I’m probably not going to do that again.
‘You shouldn’t treat dating like shopping for shoes.’ says a friend of mine.
‘Most shoes on sale tend not to be to my taste,’ I say. ‘And being shoe shopping is so boring, I try to get around all the shops as quickly as possible.’
‘Maybe shoes is the wrong analogy,’ he says.
* * * * * * * *
By the time we’ve ordered our second drink and something to eat, small talk is already getting strained. How long does one have to sit through a date before one can leave without appearing rude, I wonder?
‘What are your ambitions?’ I ask, clutching for something to keep momentum going.
‘What would you most like to achieve in life?’ I persevere.
‘Well, I’d like a proper manicure,’ she says, ‘And I’d really like to kick a pigeon.’
‘Sorry?’ I’m clearly not hearing her correctly.
‘Well, look at them, they’re all cracked.’ She holds her fingers up at me.
‘No, the other one,’ I say.
‘I really want to kick a pigeon,’ she repeats. ‘You know, it’s difficult, isn’t it. They move so quickly.’
I check my watch. Twenty more minutes should do it. I’ll just have to eat faster.
‘I feel that you’ve thought this through carefully,’ I say, smiling at her to test whether or not she’s actually just teasing me. She isn’t.
‘It’s been my ambition since I was a child,’ she tells me. ‘I’ve tried all sorts; sneaking up on them from behind, and to the side, but just as I go to take a swing at one of them, it’s like they’re psychic or something, like they know what I’m going to do and fly away. It’s so frustrating.’
‘Yes, it must be,’ I say, staring directly at her. I’m aware that this is the first thing that she’s talked animatedly about.
Our meals arrive and I dig into mine as quickly as possible.
‘What about you?’ she asks.
‘I can honestly say that I’ve never had the urge,’ I say, using my wine to wash down a large mouthful of pasta.
‘No, silly, I meant what are your ambitions?’
‘Oh. Well, I’d really like to one day earn a living as a travel writer,’ I say. ‘I’d also like to learn a new language and, at some point, perhaps retire into Europe. And, though it sounds silly (though not as utterly ridiculous as your pigeon thing, I think to myself), I’d like to get published in The Guardian.’
‘She looks at me with a degree of disappointment. ‘You’re a bit posh, aren’t you,’ she says.
‘Am I?’ I say. (I’m now most of the way through my meal. Eight or nine more minutes at most, I think to myself, surveying my plate.)
‘… Do you mind if I pop to the loo?’ she asks, after a short pause.
‘Of course not,’ I say.
Five minutes later, she returns to the table, though doesn’t sit down. ‘I’m really sorry,’ she says, ‘but my friend just phoned me to say that she’s having a bit of bother with her boyfriend. I’m going to have to go and help her out. Hope you don’t mind, do you?’
‘Not at all,’ I answer, not believing a word she’s saying, ‘You’re clearly a good friend. Go do what you need to.’
We do the obligatory not-quite-hug thing as she grabs her jacket and handbag and disappears out the door.
I sit back down, unsure which is currently my dominant emotion – relief or disappointment that I didn’t get to escape first. I pour the rest of her wine into my glass and finish my meal at a more leisurely pace.
Not long after I get home, my phone rings. It’s my friend.
‘How did the date go?’ he asks.
‘I don’t think I really need a new pair of shoes at the moment,’ I say.
* * * * * * * *
It’s 2019. Nat and I are out having breakfast.
‘A quoi penses-tu?’ she asks.
I’m thinking about bucket lists,’ I say. ‘What’s on yours?’
‘I’d really like to go to the Galapagos islands.’
‘Interesting,’ I say. ‘Any form of birdlife you’d like to kick?’
‘Good answer,’ I say.
* * * * * * * *
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