Friday, 20 September 2013

Turns out that I'm deuced awkward

This blog first appeared as a column in a selection of North London magazines, including Crouch End Connection with illustrations by renowned cartoonist Neil Kerber.

For the past six months I’ve exposed myself to the interminable love lottery that is internet dating and conversed with a succession of loveless souls, before deciding that my destiny doesn’t lie online.  The whole process seems to bludgeon the romance out of any potential date and I’ve also learnt that going through an introduction agency will cost me an arm and a leg. Considering that my heart could get broken along the way, I’d prefer to keep my body parts intact and let fate take its course. 

This evidently narrows the window of opportunity for me to meet someone.  It largely relies on falling in love on a train from Harringay to Moorgate or whilst barrelling along the circle line to Farringdon.  I’ve recently noticed poster ads on my journey which ask one to “imagine if everyone you fancied in this carriage was single”.  The sheer optimism of this directive is awesome.  Imagine!  This rather implies that some people’s commute is an expedition of lust; carriages pulsating with desirables – stolen glances, enigmatic smiles and passengers dizzy on waves of pheromones.  The nearest I get to hot looks is squeezing into a seat next to a sweaty accountant from Cuffley, whose tie is spattered in egg.  I can’t think of anything more unlikely than enjoying a brief encounter on my way to work.  After all, Trevor Howard didn’t seduce Celia Johnson by bellowing “can you move down a bit” in her ear. 

Freed up from dire correspondence with the hopeless, August has found me in a meditative mood.  Bearing my soul in this column, or at least sharing the awfulness of looking for a partner has exposed me somewhat.  It seems that being honest about my experiences has given people the impression that I need my shortcomings pointed out to me.  One of my oldest friends felt compelled to email me after he’d read one of my columns.

“Eve, I think of you as someone who has done a lot, seen a lot, with an unusually open mind and a generous sort of outlook, and you have plenty of interest to say, with a nice dash of worldly wisdom.  Even if you have occasionally failed to learn and apply a few lessons here and there.  You are heart-stoppingly lovely but destructive and deuced awkward, not a spod or chozzer or whatnot and almost certainly way, way out of the league of most of these brutes.”

Unfamiliar with the term ‘chozzer’, I consult the urban dictionary to discover it literally means pig, but is used for a person who is ungrateful, cheap, selfish, greedy, stingy or flagrantly unfair.  I can happily confirm that I’m the antithesis of a chozzer but that I probably am deuced awkward.  Another very dear friend questioned the whole need for me to have to resort to internet dating. “I thought you’d have men falling at your feet, you’re so attractive”. Then there was a sigh and a sympathetic smile and I proffered that perhaps my vigorous personality was heading them off. 

Contemplating my inadequacies, I head off to Wales with the children.  It’s a pilgrimage we make every year for a gathering of the Parker clan.  For the month of August we jostle for attention in two adjoining bungalows overlooking the beach. Dinghies are raced, outboard motors are trashed and bodies flung into the sea.  The holiday is punctuated by games of beach hockey, disastrous fishing trips and interminable cricket updates.  Invariably a family crisis comes to a head.  This year is no exception and we become aware that my 93 year old grandmother is proving to be something of a hazard to the road-using community.

Having driven ambulances during the war, Granny has always been pretty nimble in a vehicle. I’ve seen her reverse a boat trailer up a country road with manoeuvres that would have Lewis Hamilton nodding with approval.  But this enthusiasm has recently been applied to approaching roundabouts the wrong way and cruising confidently down the right side of the road, oblivious to the terror of oncoming traffic.  Having written off two cars in as many months, it’s clear to us that her eyesight is failing. 

Tiny but redoubtable, Granny is the backbone of our family.  She taught my father and uncle to sail to championship level, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of horticulture and is the cornerstone of the WI.  She regularly wages war on the local council to get plans approved or repealed and is a formidable opponent to anyone who crosses swords with her. Tactless to a fault, she informs me when I need to lose weight and has delivered some pretty uncomfortable truths over the years.  Fiercely loyal and kind beyond compare, she’s never shied away from difficulties.  Granny nursed my late grandfather through Alzheimer’s and battled medics to allow him to come home to die.  She held out hope and was there for him, despite the end being uncomfortable and distressing. “He’s always been such a splendid fellow Eve, he needs to come home so I can care for him”.  She was 86 at the time.  Likewise, Pops worshipped her and on the many occasions he wandered off, he’d ask people to get in touch with “Margaret Parker in the village, with the flaming red hair”.  A beam of joy would appear on his face when a small and purposeful lady with flossy white hair arrived to bustle him away.  What a mark of love to have the image of your beloved, as lovely as the day you met them, firmly imprinted in your failing mind.   

I’ve got a long way to go before I become a pillar of the community but hopefully I’m lucky enough to be a chip off the old block.  I may be deuced awkward but it’s a proud tradition in my family and a future Mr Parker will just have to contend with that.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Internet dating is not for me

This blog first appeared as a column in a selection of North London magazines, including Crouch End Connection with illustrations by renowned cartoonist Neil Kerber.

Sunshine brings out the joy in most people and there’s something rather sultry about lolling around London parks in a state of undress. But summer can be tough for the loveless.  From my recent forays to Hampstead Heath, it seems that although a woman with an appealing dog can attract limitless attention from passing males, a single woman with a winsome three year old is virtually invisible.  It’s possible that the application of the children’s blue sunscreen might have acted as some sort of barrier but pity the man who doesn’t view a lone woman daubed in woad as a potential date.

Sunny days are however, the perfect opportunity to surreptitiously assess the capital’s talent.  Blatant stares can be hidden behind a pair of shades and I’m able to measure stamina and team playing by observing the odd languorous game of frisbee.   Having courted nothing but disaster through online dating, it’s time to start looking around in the real world to check that eligible men still exist.  But before I leave the virtual dating world for the realm of actual men, let me share this latest episode.

I receive a message from someone calling himself “Dashing Scot”.  I’m uncertain as to what characteristics he feels are dashing but from his picture, “Lashless Rabbit” might have been a more accurate moniker.  I click open the message and read the following:

‘Dear Eve

 Hope all is well with you. You sound like a warm and engaging woman with a very full and vibrant life.

Ah you listen to Simon Mayo perhaps going by your strapline.

As a special treat after work which of these would you most enjoy;

1.     Your gym kit or running gear laid out ready for a session at the gym or a run together,

2.     Your naked boyfriend surprises you when you get home and then puts you directly in the shower still fully clothed for a wet and soapy snog,

3.     A peaceful home cooked dinner for two served by your boyfriend,

4.     A night on the town with your boyfriend going to a theatre, music concert, or jazz club,

5.     Finding an array of desserts the first of which your boyfriend squishes over you as the start of a

naughty but nice custard pie fight?

When you have a moment do take a look at my profile.  It would be great to hear from you if it strikes a chord and you’d like to get to know me better.’

By the third line I am practically crying. Simon Mayo?  My ‘strapline’ is actually a quote by Socrates.  I’m no bluestocking but I’ve put more effort into my profile than pinching the opening jingle for a Radio 2 drive time show. The idea of someone laying out my gym kit makes me feel all grabby and territorial and if a naked man ‘surprised’ me when I got home from work, I think a rabbit punch to the carotid artery would be the most likely response.  If that naked man then tried to dunk me fully clothed into the shower and assault me with suds I would probably call the police, or at least chop him in the windpipe and jam the soap into an available orifice.

A decent home-cooked meal would be welcome but I’m afraid this boyfriend is now on a hiding to nowhere. Ditto the theatre, the music concert and the jazz club.  Any dessert that was squished over me would, quite honestly, unleash hell.  If I came home to be doused in tiramisu, I’d rub my Nan’s gooseberry crumble into my idiot boyfriend’s eyes.  And man, that pudding was sour.  So regrettably Dashing Scot, the chord you struck was the jangly one, indicating psycho. I decide not to reply.

All things considered, I’m afraid it’s a resounding no from me to internet dating. Trying to discern a man’s character from the photos they post of themselves or the appalling guff they write is not, I’ve resolved, the route to true love.  Of the seven dates I’ve been on so far, four of the men were at least 10 years older than they had posted online, two were at least three inches shorter and the other one was actually much better looking.  Sadly they all displayed rather undesirable traits being respectively aggressive, neurotic, boring, thoughtless , arrogant , parsimonious and rude.  I’m not exactly Snow White but this line up made for a charmless bunch and I can’t take anymore email conversations, even if they do occasionally provide me with column fodder.

It’s time to change tactics.  My mother, an ardent fan of my column, told me the other day that it was “time to meet someone nice”. She seems to think that I’ve been conversing with ass hats entirely for her amusement.  And perhaps to some extent I have. I can’t honestly say I’ve been particularly pro-active in my search for love but perhaps at 41, alone with two small children and a rather lack-lustre social life, I need to up the ante.  With this in mind I google dating agencies in London.  Maybe I need a professional to vet my prospects and pick me a winner.

A highly lauded agency pops up called “Drawing Down The Moon”.  According to the website their members are well educated, relationship-minded professionals with limited time to seek a soul-mate.  I’m assuming this means their members are time poor rather than approaching the final furlong.  They are apparently, the best option if you feel internet dating isn’t for you.  I’m rather taken with this approach and see that their team of advisers undertake complete interviews and ID checks with all members and offer date coaching and tips for success.  All I have to do is call them for a friendly chat about how I can find my future partner.  Oh and fees range from £1950 - £15,000.  Gulp.  I might just stick to leering at men in parks for now, but maybe lay off the woad.

Friday, 19 July 2013

A fear of Brazilians and bumming

This blog first appeared as a column in a selection of North London magazines, including Crouch End Connection with illustrations by renowned cartoonist Neil Kerber.

It’s been six months now since I threw my divorcĂ©e’s bonnet into the dating ring and announced myself as ready to move on and look for love. It’s fair to say that things haven’t gone quite as I’d hoped. I’m sure the quest for romance was never this difficult – in my youth there was barely a gap between one relationship ending and me plunging headlong into another, entirely ridiculous dalliance with someone reliably unsuitable. I’ve had my heart dashed to smithereens along the way and dealt some cruel blows of my own to the most undeserving of fellows, but whatever the status of my romantic life, it was at least moving.
Internet dating seems to promise so much but the endless emails and phone calls that go nowhere are becoming tedious and my ability to pick a wrong ‘un is impressive. I had plenty of reservations about getting back out there, the sillier ones being that the pursuit of love in the 21st century would entail Brazilians – painful waxes, not the inhabitants of the largest country in Latin America – and, bumming.  If you’re not familiar with the vernacular of the latter, you can just infer what you like.  I have a tale to tell with this disclosure, so do bear with me.

For me, bumming is a bit like free form jazz; it sounds discordant; I can’t feel the rhythm and the musicians seem to be playing entirely for their own amusement. Given the choice, I’d rather not. So while Kylie playfully informs us she likes “Spinning Around” and Grace Jones huskily urges her baby to “Pull up to the Bumper”, I’m reassured by Meatloaf and his promise - “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that”. I’m pretty sure that’s what his pledge is about anyway. So, thanks Meat, I’m glad to know you’ve got my back.
With such thoughts pushed firmly to the back of my mind, I’d been emailing earlier this month with a prospective date from my online site. He seemed funny, friendly and down to earth and asked for my number. The call started well - he was easy to talk to and we swapped views on the prospect of starting over again in our forties. He was concerned with being older and not as confident with his body – the whole having to show your bottom to someone new scenario. I sympathised and floated my Brazilians and bumming fear. He took a sharp intake of breath and then laughed loudly, proclaiming “God, I wish!” Rather perplexed I asked if he was indeed approving of my two dealbreakers. “Yeah, yeah, Brazilians and bumming – I’d love to get into that”. Maybe he misunderstood and thought that’s what I was offering but I’ll make damned sure I never discuss those particular qualms again.

The route to securing a date online seems to involve sharing your entire history, intentions and catalogue of likes and dislikes. Perhaps the people I’ve so far engaged with from behind the screen have been particularly cautious but I feel sure the time spent getting to this point could have been circumvented over a couple of glasses of pinot noir. Preferably in a bar located a few miles from my home. I’ve come to the conclusion that dating ‘local’ people is a distinctly bad idea. I don’t want to run into a disgruntled beau whilst stuck in a tailback at Budgen’s. I once spent an entire year at work hiding in a cupboard from my terrifying assistant Astrid. It would not be beyond me to hurl myself into a carefully constructed display of teas to avoid confrontation– I’ve got form.  I can of course understand the caution but trying to deduce an attraction through a phone call is very difficult.
Having passed up the opportunity to ‘try new things’ with my previous correspondent , I began trading emails with a promising Scottish admirer, based in Hertfordshire.  We got on brilliantly. He’d been a professional busker in his younger days, touring Europe with a grand piano before falling madly in love with his wife and becoming a strategy consultant. He had two boys, slightly older than my daughters and a really fresh outlook on life.  Abiding by my newly devised filtering system he passed the popular culture test with flying colours and even admitted to sounding like David Tennant.  He’d already won me over at this point but that sealed the deal and I gave him my mobile number.  The conversations we held on three consecutive nights were amongst the most confusing I’ve ever had. As someone who once conducted a long distance love affair with an Albanian goat-herd, that’s saying something. There are only so many times you can say “sorry, I didn’t catch that” before you appear rude, stupid or both so I just had to roll with it. I’m presuming at some point I must have responded to a particularly tragic anecdote with inappropriate laughter or an exclamation of “how amazing” because he didn’t call again and un-liked me on the dating site. Perhaps I was hoist with my own petard and he’d been railing against homophobia, racism and bigotry and I’d been giggling along, enthusing about such attitudes. All I do know is this ‘getting to know you’ period is truly joyless and I’m rubbish at it. I need to change my game plan and try a different approach.

One option is relying on friends to open their little black books of divorce-stricken, bereaved or terminally single men, requiring me to be trotted out at social occasions like a slightly troublesome show pony. Another route might be joining an actual dating agency. I’d assumed this activity took place in the ‘Burbs and would entail meeting an awkward chap called Roy from Penge. He would sport a mean side-parting, wear his trousers a couple of inches too short and possibly carry a man bag. Maybe there is a Roy out there for me – I will begin some agency research and see what’s on offer.

Next month:  Getting on a dating agency’s books

Sunday, 16 June 2013

A brush with bigotry

This blog first appeared as a column in a selection of North London magazines, including Crouch End Connection with illustrations by renowned cartoonist Neil Kerber.
I’m beginning to feel that internet dating is in fact a heady combination of desperation and admin – possibly not the most romantic starting point for a relationship.  There is an overwhelming amount of procedure to wade through before you can even countenance that first date; the rules of engagement mean that everything happens at a glacial pace.  This of course leaves plenty of time for a fertile imagination to elevate the potential relationship to a status it really doesn’t deserve.

To prepare for a phone call with the coastguard turned chemistry lecturer, I meet with one of my dearest friends.  We discuss the possible questions I could ask to evaluate his suitability as a consort.  I mention that he lives in Hampshire. Jen raises her eyebrows “You’ve already checked out access to decent primary schools and the annual cost of commuting, haven’t you?”.  I choke on my mojito and deny it completely.  I do not tell her that I’ve done both these things, salivated over a shaker kitchen and mentally decorated the guest room with Cole & Son wallpaper.  

This fantasy element is just me romanticising the situation.  Faced with a sea of gurning faces online, each with a selling proposition that would give Bill Gates a run for his money, it’s hard to believe that this process might result in true love.  I do so want to find love again but still harbour a desire to be swept off my feet.

My ex-husband seduced me so completely that the idea of farming a small-holding on the side of a mountain in the remote Balkans seemed like an offer to experience earthly paradise.  He proposed to me as we lazed in the autumn sunshine in an orchard full of walnut trees.  He spoke intensely of his dreams in an accent thick with the mystery of ancient Illyria, whilst feeding me wild honey from a spoon.  The seduction was like an opiate-induced euphoria and I was incapable of resisting.  I’ve sobered up considerably since then but in my heart I still want to be wooed, even if it’s from behind a computer screen.

So armed with a list of questions with which to gently probe my date, I await a telephone call from the creatively titled Dave65.  He actually phones. I’m a bit giddy and make a flurry of slightly playful enquiries. “Hmm, I like the way you’re being quite flirty with me” he ventures, in a worryingly nasal monotone.  “You sound like a lot of fun”  It has to be said that he does not sound like a lot of fun and very soon I can only hear his rather didactic drone and stop listening to what he is saying.  I’m flooded with disappointment and envisage scenarios where he appraises my technique for removing his trousers and gives me marks out of ten for fellatio.  And perhaps a report card with areas for improvement.  I remember what Jen has told me about pinpointing cultural references to assess compatibility.  I search blindly for my cues and ask him if he likes Doctor Who.  There is unexpected animation in his response and for a moment I renew interest. Then he says he was disappointed by the inclusion of a gay character and any connection dissolves. 

“So you’re not a supporter of gay marriage then?” I enquire mildly. “No, I believe gay marriage undermines the fabric of society. A society that is already far too permissive, in my opinion.”   I fleetingly think of my sweet, clever and compassionate sister and her brilliant and beautiful partner Holly.  I consider that if the result of them marrying could undermine the fabric of society, it would be a society that I’d want no place in.  Having now smashed up the shaker kitchen and defaced the Cole & Son wallpaper, I inform him that we really don’t have anything more to talk about.  I wonder how I would have confronted that view had we met face to face. I feel lucky that I was not forced to flounce out of a restaurant. I hate wasting food, even if it is being shared with a bigot. 

If this unfortunate turn of events has unnerved me, the explanatory email which arrives the next day leaves me reeling.  I will quickly paraphrase this as it made me feel rather queasy and I haven’t got the stomach to dig it out again and reveal its total content.  This excerpt gives you the gist.  “Dear Eve, I’m sorry you believe me to be intolerant. I have previously enjoyed an uninhibited sex life within the confines of a normal, heterosexual relationship.  Although I’m not overly religious, I do observe the tenets of Christianity and believe that only the union of man and woman is morally acceptable.”  He then goes on to say that he’s now unsure of our future as I have exposed myself to be somewhat volatile.  Well, he has me bang to rights on that last observation. 

This sorry experience has eroded my faith in the ability of the internet to yield a suitable companion.  Almost a month of daily email exchanges, all working up to a catastrophic phone call in which someone I’d all but moved in with in my mind, reveals himself to be a canvasser for Ukip.  It’s utterly deflating.  It’s clear that I need to employ a more effective filtering system.  From now on, I’m only going to entertain candidates who make references to popular culture, admit to liking box sets and can craft a profile with an element of wit and consideration.  This immediately discounts the suitor who ‘liked’ me today, whose profile states he’s very athletic and spends much time in the gym. He inexplicably goes on to share that he regularly sees a man drying his balls with two hairdryers in the changing room.  Not exactly Cyrano de Bergerac then.


Mental bitch - my own experience of domestic violence

Reports this morning that Nigella Lawson was assaulted by her husband Charles Saatchi whilst onlookers merely commented and took pictures are deeply upsetting.  With an average of two women a week being killed by a violent partner in the UK, the suggestion of domestic violence rings alarm bells in people's minds and the clamour for intervention is deafening.
When made public, domestic violence, like any form of assault carries a call to action and as a society we feel we have a duty to wade in and advise the victim.  Call the police, have him charged.  Call Shelter, find a refuge.  These people can help, these people will give you advice, these people will protect you.  My own experience of domestic violence was harrowing but the resulting intervention left me feeling guilty, demeaned and culpable.

My ex-husband is not a violent man by nature but comes from a culture where 56% of women are subject to domestic violence.  Reported cases are less than 5% as it is seen as a private matter.  Over the eight years we were married he assaulted me four times.  I can’t say that he was overly sorry by what he’d done and seemed to think his response was justified by the shrewishness of my behaviour.  On one occasion he kicked me so hard in the stomach I couldn’t breathe.  Another time he grabbed me by the throat and pinned me to the wall until I nearly passed out.  He held a pillow over my face with such force I feared for my life and a few weeks ago he grabbed my throat again and dashed my head repeatedly against the wall.  On each of these occasions I threatened him with the police, reminding him that the laws in this country were different to his home country and the police respond seriously to assault on women. 
For whatever reason I didn’t report these incidents and deep within me I think it was because I felt it was my fault.  I had goaded him into this aggression and he defended himself physically.  On the last occasion, with my head hammering against the wall and my windpipe being crushed, he was yelling ‘you mental bitch’.  I am a mental bitch. I suffer from bipolar disorder. 

This time I did call the police.  We were separated, pending a divorce and I felt no obligation to protect him.  The officers arrived swiftly and dealt with the situation sensitively – I can’t fault their approach.  They took our statements separately and removed him to the police station.  My two small children didn’t witness the incident but were in the flat, sitting upstairs watching Scooby Doo.  I don’t know what they heard, if anything but this is not an environment I would wish to subject them to.
This all took place at 9am.  At 6pm that evening I was called by the arresting officer and asked if my ex-husband could have the right to visit us at our flat.  They were going to release him with a caution due to his previous good character but would arrest and charge him immediately should anything else occur.  They assured me that he was sorry for his behaviour and that he realised the enormity of his actions.  I agreed that he could contact us.  He wasn’t in fact very sorry, more angry with me for having involved the police but he was not aggressive and seemed to accept that he was in the wrong.

A couple of days later I was called by victim support and offered help and guidance – it was reassuring.  I was then contacted by social services who arranged a home visit with me and the children.  I have had contact with social services previously.  After my first daughter was born I suffered from puerperal psychosis, the severest form of post-natal illness and was transferred to St Ann’s Hospital for a while before going to a mother and baby unit in Park Royal.  After I was discharged and began the road to recovery, I was assigned a social worker from children's services who made weekly visits to make sure I was coping.  She was supportive and helpful and never intrusive.  It was made very clear to me that her role was to assist and I never felt she was breathing down my neck or making judgments.  It was reiterated many times that her responsibility was to keep the family together.

This time it was very different.  The social worker arrived and immediately grilled me on the incident.  She told me that she was compiling a report to determine whether a child protection order was necessary.  I felt sick to my core and very frightened.  After she filled in her form she advised me that in this situation I should have walked away.  She told me that women should learn not to anger men – it was our responsibility to calm things down.  Effectively she was telling me that this was my fault.  My objections to his thoughtless behaviour meant I deserved to be held by the throat and have my head smashed in. 
I shakily asked her whether my children might be taken into care.  She told me that was the purpose of the report; to determine whether there was a risk to the children.  No reassurances that she was there to help, no guidance that their role was to keep families together.  Just a stark insinuation that I was somehow responsible for the situation and my actions had instigated this awful enquiry. Over the coming weeks, they contacted the school and playgroup my daughters attend.  They contacted their doctor for medical reports.  I was called to ask for permission to release my medical records.  I asked why they needed mine and was told “You’ve got previous”.  Stunned, I asked whether she was referring to my mental health, which I had disclosed fully on her first visit.  As I’ve been in contact with social services before, this somehow ‘red lines’ me for further investigation.  I would have thought a rudimentary check of my records prior to the first visit would have given her all the information she needed.  She informed me that the fact that I had been ‘honest’ about my mental health would stand me in good stead.  I had never conceived of hiding it, I assumed she would know as it’s all in my file.  Bipolar disorder is part of who I am.   It’s like asthma or being short sighted, straight or gay – I didn’t choose to have it.

After weeks of discomfort, with my life being picked over and investigated, I received a letter from children’s services.  “Further to the referral from the police regarding the domestic incident between yourself and Mr X an assessment was completed and no child protection concerns were presented.  Therefore the case will close to Children’s Services.  However, if any further concerns present in the future, further action will be considered to safeguard the children”.
I took this as a warning and now, even if my ex-husband beat me to within an inch of my life, I probably wouldn’t report it.  The fear of having the children removed from my care is too great.

Friday, 17 May 2013

A little dispirited

A little dispirited by my long weekend with the dyspeptic oaf, it is clear that I’m going to have to cast my net back into the dating pool and see if I can land a less flatulent beau. I have decided to go down the online route in my search for love and companionship.

The first obstacle to overcome is actually creating a dating profile and it’s surprisingly difficult.  I have up to 2000 words to talk about me and state the qualities I’m looking for in a partner - that’s a huge amount of writing in which to incriminate myself.  Like applying for a job, I need to describe the aspirational me, not the permanently knackered, Weetabix encrusted working mother who will cut your steak up during a romantic meal and check you’ve been to the toilet before we leave the restaurant. I take a look at what other women in my age bracket are writing.

Some are terrifyingly honest and prescriptive in their approach and go as far as listing all the traits in a man which they would find undesirable such as "I’m sick of liars, cheats and men who mess me around". "I’m told I can be quite abrasive when you first meet me" and "I’m a very guarded person who doesn’t suffer fools gladly". The other end of the scale seems to be a whole genre of free-spirited, feathery sounding women with a penchant for dancing in the rain and careering through the countryside in Cath Kidston campervans.  I’m not sure where I feature on this scale – I’m fairly uncompromising with idiots but I’m also quite partial to a spot of bunting should the occasion require it.  And whether in a back garden in Salford or a tropical downpour on a beach in Phuket, dancing in the rain is a sure-fire recipe for hypothermia.  Travelling seems to be another big theme – so many people out there have an unquenchable thirst for discovery and describe, in detail worthy of The Lonely Planet, the far flung parts of the world they’ve journeyed to. I consider myself fairly well travelled but the reality is that I have two small children, limited funds and a full time job – trekking through the Pays Dogon in Mali is not really an option at the moment.
I opt for summing myself up in about 300 words and posting a smiley snap taken on a summer’s day.  I appear to have no eyebrows and my face is a bit scrunched up from the sun but I figure that it is better to under promise. Imagine how pleased my date will be when I turn up with finely arched eyebrows and an unpuckered face. Posting a heavily photo-shopped picture in a sex kitten pose seems to be inviting disappointment.  On the characteristics I’m looking for in a partner, I’m not too demanding. I mention something about someone needing to enjoy family life – the truth of the situation is that my children are the priority in my life now and they will continue to be so.  Joyfully, within hours of posting my profile I start to receive some "likes". I have to double check the site to make sure I haven’t signed up to some sort of serial killer ‘tips swapping’ forum.  To a T, my suitors look like murderers.  Some have severe mug shots, others have artfully posed pictures, but whether stony faced or smiling maniacally, I don’t like what I’m looking at. The descriptions are baffling and I wonder whether many of the features they’ve listed are just code for something else.

HemisphereDancer says he has an irreverent sense of humour and a gleam in his eye.  Does that indicate a keenness for the Vicar of Dibley, or is ‘irreverent’ more your Roy Chubby Brown end of comedy?  Norman Bates had a gleam in his eye and look where flirting with him ended up. CaringKing states that he is uninhibited, open and open-minded.  I take it that means we’d be cruising round Southend of a weekend, looking for dogging sites.  DeeDog is 12 years younger than I am and describes himself as a professional philosopher and comedian.  I’ve been acquainted with several comedians in the past and they were mostly self-absorbed and oddly bitter, particularly about other comedians.  Dating a comic isn’t the laugh a minute fun-fest you might imagine.  There are more suitors who, whilst not indicating signs of psychopathy, poor taste or dubious sexual practice, just seem dull.

One such chap who I’ve cast aside as lacklustre, is flagged up by my colleague Paul as a potential hot date.  Apparently I’ve been looking at this all wrong. This is partially because when confronted by staid and sedate men, I can come over as a bit Rizzo from Grease.  It’s desperately immature of me but I’ve never accepted that it’s hip to be square and still require a man to have a modicum of cool.  Geeky is fine. In fact, geeky is hugely sexy.  But a boffin in slacks with a fondness for botany probably wouldn’t tempt me.  I’d be seeking out kicks like a disaffected teenager, belting out ‘There are worse things I could do’ in a heartbeat.

Paul persuades me that I should give Dave65 a second look.  He is a scientist and lecturer but I concede that I could help him pick out a more modish trouser.  Through a gentle correspondence, it turns out we have a place in common as he used to be a coastguard where my grandmother lives. A coast guard! I thought they were all 80 with faces like walnuts, monitoring the seas through binoculars.  It seems I am mistaken.  He enquires of my passions, hopes and dreams and it takes a lot of self-control not to give silly or glib answers.  I do however, detect some humour and warmth in his writing and the idea of a relationship with a cerebral but earthy lover becomes rather thrilling.

This blog first appeared as a column in a selection of North London magazines, including Crouch End Connection with illustrations by renowned cartoonist Neil Kerber.

Starting Over

I’m not going to lie to you; the prospect of dating again in my 40s is more than a bit terrifying.  It oc­curs to me that I haven’t actually been on a date in this century.

The last time I was ‘out there’ Jarvis Cocker was imploring me to meet up in the year 2000 and I didn’t have to rely on undergarments that resemble scaffolding.  The rules must have changed somewhat and I am no Carrie Bradshaw.  For a start my wardrobe doesn’t contain a Roberto Cavalli evening dress and I don’t remember a single epi­sode of Sex and the City where Mr Big had to share Carrie’s bed with Clive and Germaine Billabong and other orphaned members of the Sylvanian Families.

Though I am slightly cheered by Caitlin Moran’s observation; once you’ve made it to the bedroom and events are gathering apace, a man wouldn’t be put off if you leapt between the sheets wearing a snor­kel and flippers.  I’m sophisticated enough to know that I might need to put a little extra effort into my seduction routine but how much? 21st century grooming seems to entail a world of pain and having suffered two excruciating and quite frankly barbaric labours, under­going a Brazilian is a deal breaker.  Fact: enduring immense pain does not harden you to it. Your toler­ance is significantly lowered and my threshold is now tested by eyebrow plucking.  And pain isn’t just physical.  Has the demise of my marriage left me with enough emo­tional resilience to withstand the inevitable exposure to the thun­dering ass clowns I’m likely to meet when I embark on my search for love and companionship?  Clearly I’m going to have to approach the process with a slightly open mind and even be prepared to kiss a few frogs and/or ass clowns.

For another perspective, I down­load ‘a guide to dating over 40’ onto my Kindle.  It seems sensible enough, written by two UK psycho­therapists who’ve found love later in life.  The first phrase that jars is that I’m apparently now in “mid-life”.  This of course is just a kinder way of saying ‘middle aged’ and whilst I’m no longer on the guest lists of London’s hippest club nights, I’m not shuffling round Sainsbury’s eyeing up elasticated waists and slankets. But the book does reas­sure me that internet dating is a to­tally feasible way for a 41 year old woman to browse the market.

Before I sign up for this though, I have one other avenue to pursue.  In the distant past I really did make a pact with an ex-lover that if we found ourselves single in our 40s, we should seek each other out.  When I last met Adam he was off to live in Indonesia with his new bride.  A search through Facebook reveals that he’s single once more and resides, for at least part of the year, in Essex. It’s encouragingly easy to get back in touch with him, and before too long we are ex­changing daily emails and catching up on the last 17 years.

Rekindling a lost relationship proves hard going and despite a series of pleasant dinners, there don’t seem to be any obvious signs of romance.  It feels a bit damp somehow and not in a remotely exciting way.  Quite unintentionally I agree to go on a mini-break and before I can back pedal, I’m trundling my trolley suitcase through Stansted bound for a boutique hotel in the heart of Andalucia.

Flickers of doubt at the wisdom of this trip start to re-surface at the car rental desk. Adam pomp­ously quizzes the attendant on the torque and fuel capacity of our pre-booked car and the keys to our Fiat Punto are handed over. Within moments of leaving Malaga airport, we are lost.  We stay lost for hours, filling the missing years of our relationship with almost two decades worth of arguments, dead ends, frustration, road blocks, pot­holes and recrimination.  It’s like a speeded up film of a marriage with the precious moments of joy and togetherness edited out.  I don’t think we like each other very much.  Four hours of being imprisoned in an airless tin has also revealed my date has problems of a bilious na­ture.  It begins with a cheery “par­don me, better out than in” but as we travel blindly through the Anda­lucian countryside, my senses are assaulted by a volley of burps and guffs, ranging from mildly disgusting to the full on Barney Gumble belch. It appears I am stuck in Spain with a dyspeptic oaf.

The hotel however, is beautiful.  I resolve to forget the preceding un­pleasantness and try and enjoy the break.  The next day we visit the Alhambra, a journey undertaken in furious silence, punctuated by deep sighs from Adam.  The reason for this appears to be that I had the audacity to phone my children. “This trip was a mistake” he barks.  I can’t deny it. I attempt chit chat but the sighs become snorts and I find it easier to just ignore him.

I lose Adam at the Nasrid Palaces and enjoy it my own, soaking up the serenity.  I imagine the air thick with the scent of myrtle and the women of the Harem languishing by the ornamental pools.  What I actually breathe in is a waft of farm­yard and I realise Adam is beside me, crouching over an elaborate door knocker.  He attempts a weak joke based on his find but the at­mosphere is now poisoned, any glimmer of romance suffocated. I don’t even want to be his friend.  I consider that had our namesakes been miserably lost in the Garden of Eden with the original Adam guffing up the orchard, the human race might have turned out rather differently.

Next blog: internet dating – a dazzling array of unsuitable suitors.
This blog first appeared in 7 local magazines from MPC Publications, where "Starting Over - a saga of 21st century dating" is featured as a monthly column.