Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and a date from hell

Take the girl to the gig and earn cash at the same time. What could go wrong? Everything

By Paul Lester, March 18, 2010

Just in case any of the JC's more impressionable female readers are labouring under the illusion that the writer of this column is in some ways a decent catch with a vaguely exciting career and attendant glamorous lifestyle, please allow me to tell you this cautionary tale. It is the story of a date from hell that I went on the other week and it should singlehandedly put the kibosh on any chances I might have had with the opposite sex for the foreseeable future.

It started harmlessly, even promisingly, enough, with a commission from the Sunday Express. Did I, the music editor wondered, want to review Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck (above) live at the O2 Arena on Saturday night? Well, of course I did.

Not that I'm a fan of those two veterans of '60s rock guitar, nor did I fancy shlepping all the way from north-west to south-east London and, in the process, getting stuck in traffic during the busy shopping exodus. But I am a fan of work, because work means kudos - the opportunity to see your name in, if not lights, then at least a respectable-sized font - and money.

Besides, as a freelance journalist, you never say no to a commission, even if it does involve watching a pair of clapped-out musos bending the strings on their instruments hundreds of yards away on a stage, in a venue miles from home. And even if the paper in question requires you to write the copy for the same night as the gig.

That's right. I was going to have to deliver the review by 10pm on the Saturday - even though the concert itself would still be going till around 11pm - on a laptop, with no certainty of any Wi-Fi connection, which would be essential for emailing the article by the deadline.

I too had made an effort. I was wearing a suit. OK, it was a tracksuit, but the top and bottom matched nonetheless

I decided I needed two things to make the evening more bearable: a date, and a dongle. The date would cheer up the miserable journey, and the dongle - a device that you plug into your computer to obtain a broadband signal - would enable me to get the job done once there.

The dongle I bought from Carphone Warehouse. The date was a girl I'd been speaking to online but had yet to meet in person. When she arrived at my house it was obvious she'd made an effort, wearing a smart dress and the sort of knee-length black leather boots that older readers will remember Honor Blackman used to sing about. I, too, had made an effort - I was wearing a suit. OK, it was a tracksuit, but the top and bottom matched nonetheless.

The journey, it became clear as my Citroen wheezed along Finchley Road, was going to be a nightmare. Apparently, early Saturday evening is, traffic-wise, the new Friday afternoon. I pretended that I knew a back route from Hampstead to Greenwich and ended up on a council estate in Hackney. Much huffing and sighing ensued - and that was just the car engine.

And then, just as my date and I were running out of conversation, the car ran out of petrol. Mercifully, I had enough to get me to the outer limits of the O2, which was just as well because the girl was desperate for the toilet. Not that there is a toilet on the outskirts of the O2, but there are quiet side roads, which is where she had to relieve herself. And they say romance is dead.

The venue was in sight. But it was 8.30pm and the gig had already started, so what would any gentleman do in this situation, especially given the freezing cold? He'd drop his date outside the venue, then find a place to park. But I'm no gentleman - I'm a freelance journalist with debts up to my eyeballs. So I dumped the car with my date and ran to the venue, leaving the poor creature to fend for herself.

Getting into the O2 is marginally less complicated than gaining access to Fort Knox, so having shown all the necessary documentation, I didn't have time to phone my date on her mobile and explain the complex entry system. She would have to wait in the car - minus heating because, remember, there was no fuel - while I watched Clappo and the Beckster go through the motions.

My problems didn't end there, though. Having penned the requisite 800 adulatory words, I now needed to email them off. Trouble was, I was experiencing dongle malfunction ("Not for the first time" - a passing ex-Mrs Lester) and couldn't get a signal. Instead, with deadline mere moments away, I had to phone the newspaper and croak - did I mention that I'd lost my voice from the stress of it all? - my every bon mot down the blower, over the roars of the crowd and the noise of two musicians of pensionable age strangulating the necks of their guitars.

Funnily enough, when I finally found my date hours later, in a deserted car park in the depths of Docklands, simultaneously shivering yet boiling with rage, she had similar designs on my windpipe.

It's a long shot, but any girls out there free next Saturday?

Last updated: 3:19pm, September 3 2010