Now, dear reader, strictly speaking, Paul was not a date. We came very close to dating, but for reasons you will discover, the actual date never happened. Paul advertised himself on interrodate.co.uk with an absolutely stunning photograph - without a doubt the most attractive-looking man online.
I decided to complete his questionnaire and add a pithy comment in the box provided...something along the lines of, "You are drop dead gorgeous, what on earth are you doing amongst the sociopathic misogynists listed here?"...well, perhaps not quite as succinct as that, but you catch my drift...To my delight, he responded accordingly, and thus our virtual dating commenced.
We started chatting via MSN and found we had a great deal in common - the same types of music; similar sense of humour; outlook on life, attitudes to parenting etc., and a mutual, physical attraction, which was very rare for me online. No matter how many times I stated that I was seeking tall men between the ages of 35-45, every stunted grandad would contact me with a lecherous grin, a mouth full of false teeth and nursing an ever-expanding hernia. If I applied the condition "Only 'sorted' men need contact me", meaning, no emotional hang-ups, I would get every depressed, love-sick Romeo getting in touch, telling me I had 'kind eyes', looked a lovely girl, and they needed someone to help them mend a broken heart. "What about pulling yourself together and stop moaning, instead?" I'd think, and hit 'delete'.
Mending somebody's broken heart sounds too much like hard work to me - I've had my fill of my own and am not about to inflict that burden on someone else...seems a bit selfish to me, to be honest...
So, an online romance appeared to be developing. We flirted gently with each other, testing the water, and then more blatantly. He removed his profile from the website and I stopped visiting it quite so much (always keep your options open, my mother says). We arranged to meet one Friday night. Unfortunately, Paul lived on the other side of the country to me, so a quick drink in the pub was not on the cards, but as he did a lot of travelling, we waited for his next trip to the northwest. He hinted that he'd like to sleep over at my house, what with me having 'two spare bedrooms', and tempted though I was, safety prevailed over lust and I refused. He arranged a night in the Manchester Travel Inn instead and sent me through his booking confirmation so that I could verify that he wasn't a 'nutter' - his words, not mine...read on...
I was full of eager anticipation and excitement that Friday. Paul texted me in the morning to tell me he was taking possession of a brand new company car - a Jaguar XJ-something or other (Mr Clarkson, if you ever pick this book up, I am getting educated through Born to be Riled, and really ought to know this spec, but I have forgotten if it had 'breeding', 'torque' and 'welly'...sounds like a chatty farmer to me...) - and I would be the first to be treated to a spin! Whizzo! Things were really looking up! All day, I mentally planned what I would wear, checked and double-checked the route to Manchester Travel Inn, and made sure I had some decent matching underwear to put on, without the brand name 'George' stitched across them...just in case...
I was late getting home from work that night. The weather was appalling: lashing down rain, howling gales, and my heart sank at the thought of my mascara running down my face at 8pm to meet my lipstick and my hair taking on the texture of coconut matting. But, ever the optimist, I resolved to dig out my daughter's manky No. 17 waterproof make-up and wreck my already-ageing skin with it, just for the sake of a fun-filled, flirtatious night.
Having waded through the swamp to my back door, I fell in to the house with relief and saw the answer machine light flashing. The last person I expected to hear was Paul. He'd rung at 5pm, stating that he had gone to the car, ready to set off on his drive, and his brand new Jag had been nicked. Well, I don't know who was more disappointed. Me at the lack of date, or him at having his car stolen. He'd turned his phone off - no doubt down at the police station, I thought as I tried to ring him.
I did what all stood-up dates do - made myself a fried egg sarnie. Unfortunately, whilst stomping around in an ever-growing strop, I let the oil get too hot and upon cracking the eggs into the pan, the oil spat spectacularly, hitting me fair and square between the eyes, and all down the bridge of my nose. The blisters which immediately decided to have a party on my face were a focal point for many days and I still bear the scars, three months on. Shares in Boots' concealer stick have risen sharply since my mishap.
I heard nothing from Paul for two days until he texted me to say that the police had recovered the vehicle. It had been used in an attempted building society ram raid in Newcastle. He didn't say if he was getting a new car or not. Don't think the front grille would have looked too shiny after that, though.
So, more online chat, more texts, the odd phone call and then the request to meet again due to a trip to Manchester. I accepted, offered to cook us dinner for two as it was midweek and set about creating a feast fit for somebody who isn't too fussy about what they eat. Actually, I am doing myself a disservice, here: I'm actually a pretty good cook when I am given something adventurous. So, I made 'seared scallops' on a bed of spinach; marinaded swordfish steaks with julienned freshly steamed vegetables in a bitter orange drizzle; chocolate banana mousse; and macaroons with freshly ground coffee. This can be interpreted as seafood and leaves; fish and greens; sickly chocolate gunk; biccies and a brew. I am from the north, after all.
At 4.30pm on the day of our date, I received a text stating that he was with his friend in hospital. She had been attacked on her way home from a club and he was giving her moral support. I was quite impressed. A man with an empathetic side! But if her parents were with her, as he stated, why did he need to stay? I gave myself a slap across the cheeks for being so self-centred and texted my condolences back.
Two days later, there was another invite to meet. The gloss was starting to dull by this stage, I must admit, so I wasn't that surprised when, an hour before we were supposed to meet, and I hadn't even bothered to get showered, he texted to say aforesaid friend had committed suicide.
Now, I may appear dreadfully cynical and hard with my narration of events, and I apologise for any offence caused. But either he was a dreadful jinx, or a whopping liar. And I suspected the latter. In fact, my radar was going overtime and I seemed to be zoning in on Homo Sapiens Marriedus.
I withdrew from contacting him, but I received a blow-by-blow account of his latest misfortunes via text. I declined to respond to the next invitation to meet. I had a sneaking suspicion that he would contact me at the last moment to tell me he had just found out he was pregnant and was struggling with morning sickness...