Last September, a guy on an internet dating site contacts me. In his profile, he has brown curly hair, blue eyes, works in tourism, lives near Brighton. We arrange to meet at Olympia, where he will take me to a Persian restaurant nearby. I'd like to know more about Persian food, he's showing imagination, that's a good start.
Olympia is a funny little station one stop from Earls Court, with it's own short tube line. When I arrive I look for my date. There is no one of his description, no one that resembles his photos. As the passengers clear from the platform, there is just one person left; an elderly man with receding white hair. He dashes up to me, smiling :
"Darling you look lovely!"
On the walk out of the station, he informs me:
Right, I think, I better order something small.
We enter the restaurant.
We are the only customers.
I look at the menu. I order the cheapest thing...soup.
I notice his hands. They are long, soft and slender. The nails look manicured.
He is charming and chatty. I don't fancy him but I like him. I wonder if we could be friends.
"I haven't got a proper job at the moment" he repeats "but I'm holding dinner parties. People pay to come"
My ears prick up. I've been thinking about doing this myself for sometime.
"But they are special dinners" he says coyly "what do you think about men that like to wear ladies clothing?"
My last proper boyfriend, the French guy that squatted a swimming pool, liked to wear women's clothing occasionally. Especially when wielding an axe. He loved to chop wood in heels. The firewood was a necessity in the freezing squat.
My date continues "I have a list of ooh, 2000 men who...like to be... comfortable. They are lorry drivers, bankers, mechanics, everything and anything."
I'm sitting forward, paying close attention. I feel slightly uncomfortable, but I'm not bored.
He elaborates..."The dinners aren't sexual. No. It's just a place where they can be themselves, chat, wear nice things, without judgment. Mostly their families, their wives, don't know."
Now that I look properly, I can see his eyebrows have been plucked.
"Would you like to come to one of my dinners my dear?" my date ask.
Fortunately the waiter turns up at that point.
We eat. My soup is thick, with lentils, pasta and rice. It comes with a plate of fresh herbs, radishes and feta.
We also ordered Lavash, a thin crispy bread, the oldest bread in the Middle East, they say.
Tea is in a teapot on a table-top warmer, poured into red glasses. There is a portrait of a military man with a large moustache on the teapot and the glasses.
"Who is that?" I asked the waiter who also had a big moustache. "A king?".
"I don't know," he said "my grandfather?".
My date had an aubergine dish...the 'potato' of Iran.
I would have liked to have tried polo, a kind of par-boiled rice, a sour cherry dish and something with pomegranates. But I didn't want to order any more for fear of putting my date into penury.
This Persian restaurant served mainly meat dishes. Although it is charming, the whole place smells of blood.
When the waiter goes away, my date starts gazing at me, clutching my hand. This is a good moment to tell him the truth how I feel.
"Look, you are a lovely guy but there's nothing romantic here"
He seems to accept this with grace. We leave the restaurant and walk back towards Olympia. Then on the way my date says:
"Can I have a kiss?"
"No. I've told you. I'm not interested in you romantically"
"Oh go on. Just one."
He's starting to freak me out. I walk faster.
At the station, he is supposed to get on a train back to Brighton, while I'm waiting for the tube to Earls court. We sit on the bench. Only a few more minutes I think.
My tube arrives, I board it.
Just as the doors are about to close, the date jumps on
"Oh I'm going to accompany you!" he announces with a flourish. As if I should be just as excited.
He stares at me with his big blue eyes. I sit there, stiff as a board with tension. I am now officially terrified.
"Kiss?" he says.
"Nope" I reply tightly.
At Earls Court, we get off. I turn towards him, firmly shake his hand and say "it was lovely meeting you. I must be going" and walk off smartly.
I walk very quickly down the stairs, through a tunnel to an escalator. My back starts to prickle. I turn. He's there!
He waves and smiles and turns down into another tunnel.
I start to run; down the escalator, along the crowded platform, I push my way onto the packed tube train.
When I arrive at Kilburn tube, I hide around the corner and watch the people coming out. Eventually the crowd exiting the train thins out. I breath a sigh of relief. He hasn't followed me.
Once at home I see there is a long email from him, declaring undying love. I'm"the one". I don't reply. I still want to go to a good Persian restaurant.