Tuesday 29 April 2008

She didn't sweat much, for a fat lass

13st 10lb (which is a major improvement or a minor setback, depending on your previous reference point); only 1.0 unit of alcohol yesterday; 1,375; Cheshire at long last.

So here it is at last; the most important day of my life since the last time I went on a fruitless blind date. Though this one at least starts from the encouraging premise that we have exchanged numerous e-mails and talked daily on the phone for the last week or so, and seem to have got on reasonably well. Much to the dog’s disgust, I left him in the tender care of my aunt and drove across to Chester in the early afternoon. I was outwardly calm, but the fact that I twice almost caused multiple pile-ups by trying to pull out to overtake when a car was already speeding past me suggested that I might be ever so slightly distracted. The only other obstacle I encountered was a distinct shortage of petrol, with the first service area I called at on the M62 having none at all, and the second rationing it. Clearly the Grangemouth refinery dispute is biting, and / or Gordon Brown has taken personal charge of fuel distribution.

My friend Tom had given me sound advice to smarten myself up a bit: buy a new suit by Armani or some similar fashionable designer, and a new shirt that would complement it. Whatever I did, I should not wear a tie. But even if that had appealed to me in principle, which it did not, I am far too mean to invest in a new wardrobe when I am still hoping to shed another stone. So I advised my date that I would be wearing a blue three piece suit with a watch and chain, to aid identification, adding that I would be carrying a copy of the North East daily paper for which I write a column, reasoning that this would make me stand out a bit in Cheshire if my comedic, olde worlde get-up did not quite do the trick.

After checking into the hotel, showering and putting on clean underwear, in a massive display of hope triumphing over experience, I took up a strategic position in the bar, from which I could keep a close eye on the door. About five minutes later, a woman answering the description of my date walked in. I should perhaps explain that she had so far sent me two photos: one of a dark-haired woman with her eyes shut, wearing a smile so huge that it looked like she was trying to eat a banana sideways, and accompanied by two other strikingly good looking women; and another of a red-haired woman with a vast stomach, enormous pendulous breasts and a pair of angel’s wings. The first was possibly the worst likeness ever sent by a person aiming to progress a relationship, while I very much hoped that the second was a joke in questionable taste.

However, this person could definitely be a much more attractive version of the one in the first photograph, and certainly had the key identifying feature I had been encouraged to look out for: masses of curly black hair. So I was a bit disconcerted by the fact that she made a cursory inspection of the other occupants of the bar, then went and sat down on her own about as far away from me as could have been arranged.

I looked around, and there were definitely no other men in there wearing a three-piece suit and a Victorian watch chain, or reading a copy of the Newcastle Journal. So I waved at her, hoping that this came across as a friendly and inviting action rather than the behaviour of a man who is anxious to expose himself or show off the contents of the Old Holborn tobacco tin in which he has assembled most of the ingredients for a viable nuclear device.

Eventually, she wandered over.

“Are you …”

“You must be …”

Her “You don’t look anything like your pictures” was the first complete sentence that either of us managed to utter, and I have to say that it did not come across as containing the hidden sub-text, “My goodness, you really have lost weight, haven’t you? Shall we skip dinner and go straight to your room?”

I, meanwhile, was able to say with total honesty and conviction that she was much more attractive than I had expected. And here we have a problem, of course. In fact, two of them. First, because, as my mother would have been the first to point out, “she” is the cat’s mother. And, secondly, because the Rules of Dating require you to play it cool at all times; any party expressing overt enthusiasm clearly has something radically wrong with them and must be dumped forthwith. So a blogger who is a bit smitten, as I was, is placed on the horns of a very tricky dilemma. Maybe you will now understand why this entry is being posted more than week in arrears.

I’ve tried to solve the name problem by proposing a series of pseudonyms to the Less Tall Cheshire Brunette, given that she has not unreasonably forbidden me to use her real name. But each one has been deemed unacceptable for some reason, so LTCB it will have to be. Sorry.

Luckily things perked up a bit as we shared a drink and discussed whether to order from the a la carte or try the eight course gourmet tasting menu. We went for the latter, which meant that we only had to make one decision rather than three. I was going to tell you all about it, as it really was one of the very best meals I have ever eaten in my life, with each exquisite course somehow contriving to be just slightly more delicious than the one which had preceded it. But the soppily romantic fact is that I cannot remember a single detail of what I ate, and the menu posted on the hotel’s website is now completely different from the one we experienced. But I do strongly recommend the Arkle Restaurant of the Chester Grosvenor Hotel if you are ever passing that way. Only don’t bother with the obvious horse-related jokes like trying to order a Red Rum for an aperitif, or requesting Shergar with your coffee. They have already heard all those from me, and did not much care for them.

Entertainment was provided during the meal by a young German or Austrian (who would have made a perfect suitor for the eldest von Trapp daughter in any local production of the Sound of Music) wheeling a huge trolley laden with an almost infinite variety of breads. By the time he had finished the comprehensive litany of his range, delivered with characteristic Teutonic precision, it was, of course, completely impossible to remember anything from the start of the list, so were reduced to pointing and mumbling “some of that one, please”. He kept returning in the hope of tempting us to more of the stuff. Each time we sent him away, his face crumpled a little more, as if we had piled on another piece of bad news (first Stalingrad, then D-Day, now the Führer). I felt strongly tempted to make a formal apology for the Dresden firestorm in an attempt to cheer him up a bit.

Then my companion left the table briefly, in a polite and ladylike way, though only after I had insisted that she left her wrap as hostage in case she had decided to make a run for home. And I took the opportunity to send a surreptitious text to the male friend who had been bombarding me with helpful advice all evening. It said something like “F*** me! She’s gorgeous!” Eliciting the swift response “No thanks! Exactly how much have you had to drink?”

But the truth was: not that much. After dinner we had coffee together on a sofa, and I noted that the LTCB’s hair smelt strongly of coconuts. But not in a bad way, you understand. I even offered to walk her home, but luckily it proved to be pouring with rain and she left by taxi instead, thereby sparing both of us what would no doubt have been an unseemly tussle on her doorstep. There is surely nothing like a sharply raised knee in the testicles to bring a first date to an unsatisfactory close, at least from the viewpoint of the male participant.

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