Wednesday 26 March 2008

These boots weren't made for walking

13st 13½lb this morning, though not for long; zero alcohol yesterday; 1,409; Soho, repeatedly.

This was a very exciting day for at least two reasons. First because my weight was marginally, infinitesimally below 14 stone when I stepped cautiously onto the scales at 5.30a.m. And, secondly but even more importantly, because I was going on a Blind Date for the first time in many years. Naturally I didn’t really believe it until the other person involved turned up in the evening and used the very words “Blind Date” to describe what we are about. Usually, in the distant past, when I have gone out for what I thought was a “date”, I have been informed in no uncertain terms that what was actually happening was a friendly drink or meal to establish whether there were any grounds for developing from total strangers into slightly cool acquaintances. But the lady definitely said “date” and that surely implies that, at some point, if you prove to be compatible and at least one of you has drunk life-endangering quantities of alcohol, you might end up in bed together. Doesn’t it?

But all this hypothetical stuff lay far in the future as I stood on the freezing platform at Morpeth station at five to eight this morning, awaiting the 08.00 to Newcastle. Things went much as one might have expected. Shortly after the appointed time, a woman approached the Bloke in the red anorak, who was standing on the edge of the platform next to me, apparently pondering whether or not to jump, and hissed, “It’s running half an hour late!” But she must have had a long track record as a practical joker because he clearly did not believe her, continuing to stand in exactly the same position and looking hopefully northwards for the next 39 minutes, until the next scheduled train to Newcastle wheezed out of a siding and conveyed us south. The overcrowding between Cramlington and Manors would have upset even cattle of a fairly robust disposition. And talking of animals, our original train had apparently been delayed for three quarters of an hour by “sheep on the line at Chathill”. Amazing. We’ve been running passenger railways in this country for over 180 years, and they still haven’t devised anything capable of keeping animals off the tracks. You’d think Brunel would have cracked that one a while back, wouldn’t you?

At least National Express allowed me to travel on the next available train to London, and I still managed to arrive for lunch in Soho on time. I made a speech to my host about how I was not going to eat or drink much as I was going out for supper with my Blind Date after the opera, then got stuck into three courses and a large amount of booze. Jolly good it was, too. A Michelin-starred restaurant called Arbutus which seems to attract only two sorts of reviews on the internet: the ecstatic and the almost unbelievably scathing. I’d have been quite close to the former if I could be bothered to provide details, which I can’t. (A tip for moaners about the meagre portion sizes: order the tarte tatin for pudding. There was certainly no shortage of that.)

The last time I hung around in the foyer of the Royal Opera House for a Not A Blind Date At All, just meeting the sister of a friend who shared my enthusiasm for music, I found myself being eyed up by a woman who was somewhat larger than Dawn French and nothing like as pretty. I was on the point of fleeing when a very slim and attractive girl bounded up and said “Hello, you must be …” I felt an overwhelming desire to throw my arms around her and kiss her, which would of course have been absolutely the wrong thing to do on a Not A Blind Date At All.

This time my Blind Date proved to be surprisingly and strikingly attractive, and nothing really went wrong with the early part of the evening apart from the opera. Which was, I suppose, a fairly major component. It was a revival of a production of Eugene Onegin by the late Steven Pimlott, which I had missed the first time around. The fact that two friends of mine were buying tickets to see it for a second time wrongly suggested to me that it might be rather good. But what it actually meant was that they have the memories of goldfish. There was a bloody great pond in the centre of the stage for no obvious reason. True, it was invisible from our seats in the stalls, but we were made aware of its presence by the fact that people periodically went for an inexplicable splash around in it. Just the sort of behaviour you’d expect in the Russian countryside in the nineteenth century. Despair set in quite early for me, when a load of overweight peasants come galumphing on to dance along with the harvest song, looking utterly ridiculous. In fairness, it did get better in the second half when the pond was transformed into a Muscovite ice rink, sadly without Torvill and Dean. And the singing was very good, even in the absence of Gerald Finley with bronchitis. In fact, if I shut my eyes against the embarrassing events on stage and the big head of the Bloke in front of me, it was almost as good as listening to it on a CD in the comfort of my own home.

Things started to go seriously awry when we walked out of the Royal Opera House into some light drizzle and my Blind Date announced "I can't possibly walk in the rain in these boots". Somehow I displayed commendable self-restraint in not asking what, then, she had bought them for.

Ladies: those boat-shaped objects at the end of your legs with the vaguely finger-like growths at their extremities are designed primarily for your conveyance from A to B. Do not, repeat NOT, invest in any footwear that impedes this essential purpose. Otherwise worn-out comparisons with chocolate fireguards and motorbike ashtrays will spring instantly to the mind of any male companion.

My companion’s preferred solution was for me to find a taxi to convey us to our restaurant, which was all of five minutes’ walk away. Something of a challenge when some 2,000 people are coming out of a theatre at the same time, of whom approximately 1,250 also want a cab. I made this point as succinctly as I could, adding with heavy but evidently misplaced sarcasm that we could always take one of those ghastly cycle rickshaws, one of which was wobbling down the middle of Bow Street at that moment, eagerly ringing its bell. Seconds later I found myself in the care of a monoglot East European who had never heard of The Ivy or West Street, which is where we wanted to be, and took us for a tour of Soho instead. I can safely say that I have never been more frightened than I was being pedalled up the wrong side of Shaftesbury Avenue with bendy buses flashing their lights at us. We escaped death under the wheels of a van by inches.

Actually, come to think of it I have been more frightened, the time one of my barmier ex-fiancées similarly insisted on her inability to walk in the rain, and we ended up taking a rickshaw from St Martin’s Lane to the far end of Pall Mall. I have a vivid recollection of shooting through a series of red traffic lights in Trafalgar Square, partly because the rider was in a frantic hurry, but mainly because he clearly had no way of stopping the bloody thing. Something of a tropical downpour was taking place at the time, and I remember thinking that none of the motorized traffic would have much in the way of braking power, either. That was also worse because it was one of those rickshaws where the passengers sit in front of the rider. On the present occasion, I would at least have had the satisfaction of seeing the Romanian killed first. In the satisfying slow motion in which accidents always take place.

I never normally drink cocktails, but I needed a stiff drink to try and restore my equanimity when we finally arrived at the restaurant. It did not work, nor did the subsequent bottle of wine. This has rendered memories of our conversation somewhat hazy, and doubtless meant that my Blind Date went home thinking that I was a chronic drunk. While my friend with the short memory helpfully took the opportunity to tell her at the interval that I had just lost the best part of two stone. So the evening will have established in her mind that I am a dipsomaniac who, at any minute, will also reveal his true colours as a Fat Bastard. Excellent. I should think that will have done it nicely.

In the somewhat unlikely event that I ever go out on another Blind Date, Lessons Will Be Learned, as the Government likes to say. I wonder what they are?


Helios said...

Oh dear, oh dear...your ignorance of the essential qualities of female footwear is rather disappointing. The boots in question were probably being worn for your benefit you big harrumphing fool. Were they slim fitting, with spike heels and made from the softest leather? You were supposed to imagine them rubbing gently against your ears not criticise them for their inadequacies. Would you rather she had attended the opera in a pair of hiking boots?

The choice between pain and comfort in footwear is one which creates great anxiety in women. But know this Bloke: if she had no hope of the evening going anywhere, she would have slipped into some horrid ballet pumps. So stop moaning...

Oh, and by the way...Cov G to The Ivy in 5 minutes? She would have needed Nikes and I'm guessing you're not moving like Linford Christie any time soon. It's at least 8 minutes away.

Keith Hann said...

The problem in answering your first question is that I did not actually notice what the boots were made from. This suggests a fatal flaw in the strategy of wearing them if they were designed to attract me. All I did notice is that they were, as John Reid might well have said, not fit for purpose.

Ironically, when we finally got to The Ivy she invited me to have a fumble in her handbag. Naturally I expected to find a gross of the condoms that well-prepared ladies customarily order from Ocado, according to one of your earlier comments. But what I actually encountered was a pair of flat shoes which I think could be described as ballet pumps. I think this was designed to demonstrate that she had come prepared for all eventualities, though evidently she shared your view that they are "horrid" and had not been able to face putting them on when the alternative of a life-threatening cycle rickshaw presented itself.

If you would like to test the theory that The Ivy is at least eight minutes from Covent Garden on foot, please arrange to present yourself in Bow Street sometime to test this. I shall be wearing sensible brogues and carrying a stop watch. But you must feel entirely free to wear stilettos and a skirt too tight to permit the attainment of a sensible walking pace.

Since I failed to respond to your earlier comment re being a single gal who lays in stocks of condoms, let me make it clear that I am a Geordie who is repelled by such things as I don't take a shower in my mac or go paddling in my wellies (for more in the same vein, see Sid The Sexist in Viz comic, passim). Added to which, I have signally failed to impregnate anyone during three decades of dodgily protected (though admittedly rather incompetent) sexual activity, so I think the risk from me must be pretty low. If you should happen to have an attractive younger sister who would enjoy the mild excitement of such an encounter, please put her in touch.