Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Back on the Dating Horse.

There is no quick fix for a broken heart, but with the help of family and friends I have managed to get through the last few months without having a complete and utter breakdown... which is good. When a friend suggested a blind date with a friend of hers, however, my gut reaction was to think it was all a bit too soon, but I changed my mind when I realised that wallowing in self pity wasn't going to get me anywhere, and decided there was no time like the present to get back on the proverbial dating horse. Maybe it would cheer me up if nothing else.

I should have gone with my gut. This particular horse had not only been in his stable a little too long but he wasn't totally broken in either.

My friend first described my date, in a text: "He's an apple farmer, 52, not a looker, a bit nerdy, but solvent." Wow. Then I got a second text: "And he has no baggage, bonus!" Gosh, she was really selling him! As the days went by, the sense of impending doom got stronger and stronger but I brushed it aside and tried to imagine the evening, not as a date per se, but as a pleasant interlude with a stranger... and my friend. Oh didn't I mention that? On my request, my friend was coming too. Just the three of us on our date. Not weird at all!

The pub where we had a arranged to meet was all the way across London, so I decided to drive. The only downside to this, I realised fairly soon, was that I couldn't anaesthetise the evening with alcohol. I got there 15 minutes early and chose to wait in my car opposite the pub, until my friend arrived. She was rarely early so there was no danger of me missing her. I put the radio on, reclined my seat and people watched, keeping a particularly beady eye out for a slightly apprehensive-looking 52 year old man. I waited and waited and saw neither my friend nor anyone resembling an apple farmer. Not that I would know what an apple farmer looks like exactly, but I suppose I was expecting a man in jeans and wellies, with slightly ruffled hair and twigs clinging to his jumper. 20 minutes later I spotted my friend going into the pub so I parked my car and went in.

The first thing to irritate me was a text message from my date to my friend. As we sat down and took off our coats, she looked at her phone and said: "Uh oh. He's going to be 40 minutes late." 40 minutes!! Grrrrr. For me, this is a massive pet peeve. There is nothing more annoying than someone being late... unless of course there is a damn good reason. His message didn't report a horrendous accident, nor a health-related episode, he had simply not worked out his journey properly which showed a blatant disregard for others. Rude! (Not to self: Ranting like this is not only counterproductive but I am beginning to sound like my Father.) If I had been on my own I definitely would have left, so it was a damn good job my friend was there, being the apex to my dating triangle. It meant I was able to have a relaxing glass of wine with her and find out a little more about my date, before he arrived.

I began by asking how she had met him. I was expecting a story about him being an old friend from Uni or meeting at a party or something, but it became very clear that I was on the end of a very long list of women that had been set up with him, my friend included. What? My friend had met him while he was on a date with another friend of hers. What? The date with the other girl hadn't worked out and so he asked my friend out. WHAT? But my friend, nor any of the other women had had a second date with him. Oh My God. Not only was I astounded that she hadn't imparted this fairly important bit of news to me before, but it seemed as if the likelihood of me "clicking" with this man, after so many had rejected him, was fairly remote. I asked her what was wrong with him... why had all these women decided he wasn't for them? My friend paused, ummed and ahhed for a minute or so, refused to make eye contact, and finally said: "Well, he's just not very sophisticated. He doesn't really like eating out, actually he doesn't really eat at all, and he's not very generous. Um, he's been on his own a lot so his social skills aren't brilliant either, but... he really wants a wife and lots of kids!" "Oh bloody hell," I said laughing, "I can't even have children, plus I live and breathe food, and am terribly sociable... how on earth could you set me up with someone soooo incompatible?" She grinned at me. "Well, you never know. You just might see something in him that we didn't!" My friend, the eternal optimist.

We decided to order some food while we waited for him, and I went to the loo while there was a hiatus in the proceedings. When I returned, there was a man sitting at our table. It took me a moment to realise this must be my date. It was as if a slightly mad looking professor had stepped off the pages of a 1950's medical journal... stiff burgundy cords, navy wool jumper, tweed jacket, a ring of brown curly hair below a shiny pate, and bi-foculs sitting on a face so pale, it was hard to imagine he had ever been outside, let alone surrounded by fresh air and apples. This man looked 72 not 52. Oh dear. But I am always willing to see past the exterior and find out what's on the inside, so I took a deep breath, shook his hand and sat down, grinning manically at both my friend, and him.

As well as being obviously mismatched, there were also a few external factors working against us... the first, was volume. As I began to speak, a band suddenly started playing at the end of the room. It was not a gentle accompaniment to our chitchat but rather a loud squawking, which entered the brain with such a hammering it was as if a large woodpecker was strapped to my head. I also seemed to be the only person in the room whose chair was faced away from the band. It quickly became apparent that the rest of the room consisted of the groups' friends and family, whooping and clapping their way through the set and seemingly looking straight at me as they directed their gaze towards the stage. It was very very off-putting. This noise also triggered the second and third problems. The second, was that we couldn't hear each other above the music, which resulted in my date leaning so far forward he was practically eye-level with my cleavage, whilst cupping both hands around his ears and screaming, "SORRY?" whenever I said anything. This is when the third problem arose. Each time my date shouted something back at me, it was accompanied by a tiny spray of spittle, which occasionally entered my mouth. I clamped my lips together, tried not to look too horrified, and sat as far back in my chair as possible. Of course, this just made matters worse. Compensating for my distance, my date scooted his chair closer, studied my breasts more intently, shouted louder and sprayed more. I frantically grabbed the waitress as she passed our table and said, "I'm so sorry, we really need to move out of this room". She must have seen the exasperation on my face, because she nodded kindly, patting my shoulder.

My friend then casually asked where I had parked my car. As she explained the residents parking, I realised, with horror, that I had parked in an illegal space which meant a parking ticket was imminent. I swore, jumped up, grabbed my bag and coat and ran out of the pub without so much as a 'goodbye'. Luckily there was no ticket when I reached my car, but it did take me a further 15 minutes to find another space. My friend and date must have thought I'd done a runner, after all, I had grabbed my coat and handbag when I left the pub, when all I really needed were my car keys... was I tempted in those 15 minutes to simply drive home and not go back? Noooo, don't be silly. It hadn't even entered my mind!

When I returned, my friend and my date were sitting at a new table in a quieter part of the pub. Phew. The only downside was that we still had no food, so we complained to our waitress. At this point, she was clearly a bit fed up with us but ever the professional, she put on her warmest fake smile, apologised and went off in search of our order. Moments later, another waitress arrived and plonked down a plate with a small pie on it. My friend and I looked at it with bewilderment because what we'd actually ordered, was a venison shepherds pie, supposedly big enough for three people to share. This pie was tiny... surely our waitress couldn't think this minuscule puff could feed us all? Ridiculous. My friend and I got the giggles because it was obviously a mistake, but what made it more hilarious was that my date was holding his knife, studying the pie very seriously, mentally dividing it into thirds. Once again, we beckoned our waitress over and pointed forlornly at the pie. "Oh God," she said, "That's not yours, I'm so sorry", and sighing heavily, took the plate away. Heated words were exchanged behind the bar and then the manager came over. He proffered huge apologies, explaining that our food would be with us shortly, and added that he would not be charging us for the meal. Well, that's good. As he disappeared in one direction, from the other, came our waitress. She repeated what the manager had said and asked if there was anything she could do? "Maybe some drinks, while we wait?" I asked, giving a cheeky sideways glance to my friend.

We finally got our food at 10:30pm... an unremarkable dish of lukewarm stodge (thank god it was free)!! Not only had we been starving up to this point, but the conversation had been heading off in all sorts of odd directions. To make matters worse, even when we found some things in common, the lack of chemistry made everything so awkward, and my lovely friend, hoping this still might be a match made in heaven, carried on making some fairly inappropriate comments. He mentioned he liked am-dram and my friend said: "Oh Jules loves acting, she's amazing, you should see her do something". He mentioned that he was writing a book and my friend gushed: "Ooooooh. Jules is writer too, she's soo talented, you should read some of her stuff.". He said he liked the theatre and my friend said: "Oh Jules adores the theatre, she goes all the time. You should go". It was so embarrassing and it didn't matter how many times I nudged her in the ribs or kicked her under the table, she kept going. To top it off, I started talking about the perfect place to write a book... saying that I would love to take 6 months off and go and write my novel on a beach, in the Caribbean. My friend let out an excited squeak and said, "Orrrr, you could find someone with a big farmhouse in the country, and go and write it there!". Ha ha ha ha haaaaaarrrrrr. I kicked her... again.

It's safe to say, I did not feel that this date was going to be the first of many. We concluded the evening with suggestions of seeing a play together... all three of us! I then stepped towards him, to do the obligatory two kisses with slight hand hug to the arm, and he was so unprepared for this intimacy that he stuck his nose in my ear as I air-kissed one side of his head, and head butted me as I attempted the other side. I honestly had to pretend to cough to smother my laugh, it was excruciating! Oh God, the thought of having to date so many toads again fills me with utter dread, but dear readers, if I can at least amuse you whilst I continue this journey, then it's worth it.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Platform Fiasco.

I have become accustomed to being stared at occasionally, by a certain type of man, and not in a flirty sexy kind of way either. It doesn't happen often but when it does, it is usually so blatant that it's quite disconcerting. I ask myself... is there something stuck on my face, has my mascara run, is my skirt tucked into my knickers? All those questions buzz around my head but it's safe to say, it's usually none of those things... Some males just find me odd looking.

Whenever I have travelled to Asia, be it Vietnam, Singapore or India, the locals seem quite fascinated. With the average man standing at a very petite 5'4", with dark skin, dark hair, dark eyes and small features, it's understandable that they find a blonde, blue eyed, 5"10' white woman, with large... well, everything, quite intriguing. They aren't shy about their interest either. They have stared, pointed and sometimes stroked me, as if I was some kind of zoo animal on display.

But at 8:30am, standing on a London train platform waiting for the next overcrowded tube to arrive, being gawped at for no apparent reason is just a bit odd. The man in question was a tiny middle-aged Indian man, standing about ten feet from me. He looked me up and down very slowly and as I caught his eye, giving him my best "don't mess with me, I'm not in the mood" look, he turned away. Seconds later he was doing it again, but this time he stopped at my feet and there he remained, with a contemplative stare. Oh God, maybe he had a foot fetish or something. I looked around for my nearest exit and when I turned back he had sidled up beside me and was muttering something like, "manchoo, manchoo". Oh blimey, an early morning nutter, just my luck. He then grinned at me, frowned and pointing at me said, "You man chew?" Uh oh, I did not like where this was going. He then pointed down his own body and said, "I man chew!", and laughed really loudly. Oh. My. God. "I man chew, I man chew", he repeated, incredibly pleased with himself. Well good for you, I thought, stepping quickly to my left, we both like men, yay, but what you do in private is your own affair.

I turned away from him and shook my newspaper sternly, but he was relentless. "I man chew but why you man chew?", he asked, frowning. Suddenly I heard the most glorious noise, accompanied by a gentle breeze... the tube was coming. Salvation, escape at last. I moved quickly down the platform to make sure I was not going to get on the same carriage as him, and all the while my Indian friend kept shouting and pointing at me, attracting quite a bit of attention. The last thing I heard him say, as the train blasted into the platform was, "You pretty girl, no understand why man chew!" Oh for goodness sake.

I got on the tube and let out a big sigh, putting my bag on the floor as I stifled a giggle. And that's when I realised what the whole platform fiasco had been about... what my lovely crazy Indian friend had meant by "man chew". I was wearing what he obviously considered "Man Shoes"... a rather masculine, but terribly fashionable, pair of brogues!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Joy of Aqua Aerobics.

Aqua Aerobics class. Monday 7pm.

Class size: 30
Class length: 1 hour
Average age: 50
Percentage of women to men: 100%
Average breast size: 42 GG
Average weight: 200 lbs
Average water swallowed per session: 2 pints
Length of time spent giggling: 30 mins
Length of time making noises of exertion: 30 mins

Aqua aerobics is supposed to be one of the gentler types of exercise. Because my knees are, medically speaking, um... buggered, I have to be careful with the sort of exercise I do. I can't twist or lunge and I can't rotate my knee past 45 degrees, so tennis is out, any normal dance or aerobics class is out, and everything else I have to be a bit careful with. I can walk, hurrah. I can cycle, I can do Pilates and Yoga, if I miss out some of the really bendy asanas, and I can swim as long as I don't do breaststroke. I have lost weight this year and until I have my knee surgery, I damn well want to keep the weight off and remain fit, so I try and do as many varied things as I can. So Aqua aerobics is one of the safe ones. It's low impact, non weight-bearing, great for strengthening your core, and hilarious. Laughing is also great for your health and well being, as long as you keep your mouth shut whilst doing it. In a warm, chlorinated, and (most likely) germ and pee-infested swimming pool, it's not advisable to do anything with your mouth open. I usually forget how much I enjoy aqua aerobics until I get there, and then I grin for the entire hour.

The women in my class are big and joyous, and seem to be that way both in and out of the pool. I have been going to this class pretty regularly for the last few years, so I know most of them to say hello to when I see them around Balham. It does sometimes takes me a while to realise how I know them, however, as I usually see them half naked, bouncing around in 4 feet of water and not fully clothed, pushing a shopping trolley around Sainsbury's! They are probably on average a size 18-20, but don't seem at all body conscious, standing around the pool in pretty skimpy costumes, having a good old gossip. One lady is my favourite. A big beautiful Jamaican woman who always says, "Hello blondie" when she sees me. She has, without doubt, the largest boobs I have ever seen, and she certainly would not be in danger of drowning if she was involved in a hazardous water accident. What I love about her, is that in order for the aerobics to be more challenging, she always stands in deeper water, near me. Now, I am 5'9" and she is about 5'2"... on me, the water comes to just below my shoulder blades, but on her, the water comes up to her chin, therefore, so do her boobs. They are such massive flotation devices that she cannot see over the top of them. And her laugh is so infectious as she tries to push them down, that the whole class ends up in fits of giggles. The instructor, who looks like she has just stepped off the 100 metre track at the Olympics, and is so trim and toned it's quite nauseating, can't help herself either. All she can do, in between hoots of laughter, is to keep suggesting that she goes a bit shallower. "No, I'm fine my darling" she shouts back, "it's all good, it's all good". You can only imagine what happens when the exercises actually start.

The bouncing of my companion, as we begin to jog underwater, causes mini tidal waves to sweep across the pool, half-drowning not only her neighbours, but herself as they hit the side and return to where they started. Gallons of water escape as we jump and splash in unison. The male lifeguards grin and stare, completely transfixed, as 30 pairs of breasts brake the surface ever few seconds, with such ferocity, that it's probably better than watching the Orca's at Seaworld. It may all sound like fun and games but it's actually really really difficult, and that's where the other noises come in. Trying to do boxing punches and karate kicks with the resistance of water is bloody hard, and I'm sure some of the older ladies in our group, have let a water bubble or two escape with the exertion of it all. On top of all that, Miss Olympics decides to throw in foam dumbbells to make the water resistance even harder, making us pump them rigourously, as we are forced to "run" up and down the pool. Now don't be ridiculous, no one can run underwater! We looked like complete and utter morons, groaning and grunting and we slow-moed at no miles an hour. I started to get the feeling that our instructor was just making us do things for her own amusement and that just possibly, at the same time as I am writing this, she is tweeting, "You won't believe what I got them to do in the pool today? Running! I know... LOL!"

The last exercise began with an inverted cross, face down in the water with our arms outstretched. Then we had to tuck our legs into our chests whilst pulling the dumbbells down and underneath our feet. This movement, we were told, would bring us upright, bobbing happily in the water. If the description sounds confusing, you should try doing it. Not one of us managed it without half drowning. Dumbbells shot up into the air as we lost control, spluttering and gasping whilst swallowing large gulps of water as we laughed uncontrollably. It was a complete disaster and our instructor simply shrugged and sat down on the bench, her work done.

So... if you've never tried it, look up your nearest swimming pool and see if they do Aqua Aerobics classes. I guarantee you will laugh your arse off, and even if you don't, you'll get a pretty toned one!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Post Holiday Blues.

It happens every time without fail. I go on an incredible holiday or a longer adventure, and when I return - after the initial euphoria of seeing my friends and family, and the telling of amusing stories and dangerous antics have faded a little - I am left with persistent jet-lag and a serious case of post holiday blues. What's slightly troubling is that even a weekend away in Wales last week, left me feeling mopey on my return to London. I didn't want to be back, I didn't want to go to work and I didn't want to be faced with the reality of being single again in London, and not having a dog... long story!

Now, don't get me wrong. I love London, I love my life and I really do love my job, but it all looks a little lacklustre when you return from somewhere amazing. I know I'm not alone... everyone goes through the same thing. My friends with kids hate coming back from holiday, to the same old routine of packed lunches and school runs. Other friends that work in London, know that their fresh, tanned faces will soon be creased with stress, and haggardly pale from too many late nights and impossible deadlines. We all feel it... but how many of us actually come back and decide it's time for a change, that we can't do the same old thing anymore, and that we must do something about it? You may have been on a diving holiday, and decided on your return, to pack up your desk job, get your PADI Divemaster qualifications, and go back to the Caribbean to teach. You may have done a yoga class on a beach in Thailand and realised that was what made you truly happy. Several friends of mine have made that leap, turning their passionate hobbies into their profession, and they are some of the happiest people I know. But they are brave... they took the leap. They jumped and the net appeared.

My passions are obvious to anyone that knows me... writing and traveling. I am so transparent with my desires, it seems, that on more than one occasion earlier this year, when I was going on all those tortuous dates with strange men, one of them said how I completely changed when I talked about traveling, that my face lit up and I was like an excited puppy. They could see that's what I truly loved. One blind date rudely labelled me a commitment phobe, wondering why I was even dating when it was obvious to him, that I would never truly be fulfilled settling down with someone, because I would eventually get bored and disappear off on an adventure. Harsh! I know my last boyfriend was worried about my wanderlust nature. He believed I would never be content spending a week in Ireland, if I had the opportunity to go to South America for a month. He was wrong. Adventure can be found in the next village, not necessarily thousands of miles away.

But why does it have to be so black and white? I love traveling, yes. I love being in love and having a boyfriend, yes. And I am fully committed to both. Why does it have to be either, or? I was told by a friend at the weekend, that maybe I was looking in the wrong place for love, that internet dating probably wasn't where I was going to find my adventurous male counterpart, my Bear Grylls, Mark Anstice or Bruce Parry. Hmmm Bruce, yum ... sorry, I lost myself for a minute there. But I'm hardly going to meet my hunky explorer in the Balham Sainsbury's or my local pub, am I? They're probably already wading through crocodile infested waters in the Amazon or eating horse testicles in Outer Mongolia! So where do I find them? Well... whilst traveling most likely, and there I am, back to square one. 

I have had boyfriends, in the past, that have shared my passion... maybe a little too much. One lovely guy decided to get a desk job in the city, and settle down after spending most of his life commanding his own ship in the Navy. We lasted 6 months. He broke up with me simply because the pull of the ocean and sense of adventure was too strong, and he returned to the sea and his ship. Another boyfriend traveled to the West coast of America to follow his dream and left me utterly heartbroken. Yet another, claimed he had put his adventurous and wandering nature behind him, but managed to manifest his passion for "international relations" with the girls themselves rather than the countries! I haven't had much luck!

A few years ago, after I was told I couldn't have children, I went through a bit of soul searching... a sort of, why am I here, type philosophising. I decided that I wouldn't waste my time feeling sorry for myself or thinking that my life wouldn't be full without children, and I would make it mean something instead, and do things I really loved. I signed myself up for a creative writing class, decided to do some voluntary work, and put aside a month a year to travel. I was also convinced I would meet a fabulous man along the way. Maybe I would meet a man whilst volunteering and traveling. I rashly chose Medicine Sans FrontiĆ©res, or Doctors Without Borders. This is an international medical humanitarian organisation, helping people around the world, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation. They are usually based in remote areas, and rely on motorbikes to get medical supplies to those in need. In my ridiculously romantic head, I imagined a handsomely rugged doctor, racing through the desert on his old Triumph, his cotton scarf billowing out behind him, thwacking me in the face as I rode pillion behind him, clutching both him and the bag of life saving medicine! Ohhh, it's like something out of a movie. Ok, it's safe to say I didn't get past the first interview! Not because I'm not a Doctor... which I know you think may have been fairly crucial, but because I couldn't honestly get through the initial questions without crying! I was asked how I would cope with sick or dying children, war-torn countries, devastated lives, and be able to face such harrowing scenes that they would imprint on my memory for the rest of my life. "Oh my God" I said, welling up, "I couldn't bear it". Not a good start. Therefore, volunteering for a cause, unselfishly helping others in need... great. Volunteering, in order to meet a man... not great. 

I have thought long and hard over the past few years, about how I could combine my passions with making a living. I spent months re-writing my travel stories, sending them to every publication I could think of - Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, travel magazines, in-flight magazines, and all the women's glossies - and I was amazed at how many took the time to respond. Most were very sweet and complimentary, encouraging me to keep writing, but all saying the same thing in the end, thanks but no thanks. A travel writer is a very tough and oversubscribed field. Lonely planet told me that most of their writers do it for free, and Conde Nast Traveler said they had over 200 freelance writers on their books, all with journalism degrees. Oh. I think you have to be incredibly lucky and possibly know someone that knows someone to make it. I am still positive it will happen though and I am still incredibly committed to following my dream.

I have already started planning a few trips for next year, and of course, I am still on the lookout for my adventurous, passionate, soulmate. If I met the right man, I wouldn't cancel my travels, no, no, no... but I may just be booking a double room rather than single.