An old girlfriend, fresh humiliation
In the last Suddenly Single I concluded that, having temporarily run out of ways to meet new girls, it might be an idea to reacquaint myself with some old ones, and by "old" I mean females I knew in the past rather than women of pensionable age.
Then again, I might have more luck with the bus pass and blue-rinse set. Besides, is it just me or are OAPs looking hotter these days? I'd go to bingo every week if the crowd was full of Stephanie Beachams. Unfortunately, at my local Mecca in Watford the clientele is more Pat Butcher - "two fat ladies" is probably about right.
Anyway, I got in touch with one of my exes, Melanie, and after a lengthy phone conversation full of jovial repartee (that was just me - she was virtually mute throughout), we agreed to go on our first date for nearly two decades. The only problem was that, since we split up on January 18 1993 (give or take an hour), she has moved from north London to the south coast, and my lease car has a maximum annual mileage.
So we decided to meet up at the exact midpoint between my house in Bushey and hers in Bournemouth - sunny Basingstoke, a town notable for being referenced by Gilbert & Sullivan, and for allegedly being the swinging capital of the UK. Not that we intended to extend these achievements - her singing voice, if memory serves, is a sort of shrill soprano that is much more suited to heavy metal than comic opera, and as for simultaneous multiple partners, let's just say I struggle to entertain one.
Being a part-time dad of three, I spent the long drive down to Hampshire seriously considering the practical implications of taking up with a mother with three children of her own - such as: would all six kids get on like the proverbial house on fire, or would mine, given their fondness for electrics, set fire to her house?
Gone was her unhealthy obsession with her weight. Now she ordered a steak the size of the Gaza Strip
More crucially, could I still, as I did almost 20 years ago, show her off to my friends? At 22, Melanie had the body of a gymnast. Would she now be less Olga Korbut than Ronnie Corbett?
When I arrived at the restaurant where we'd arranged to meet, I was greeted by a vision of beauty - that will have been Dorota, the Polish waitress (hmmm, I thought, must check which party has the most lenient policy vis a vis immigration). As for Melanie, she was sitting in a dark corner. Her skin had the same translucent glow as before, which was just as well because the table lamp wasn't on and I could barely find my seat.
(I recall whenever we went to the cinema we'd never need the usherette's torch. Good times.)
Even in the gloom I could make out her physique - she was more womanly now. It soon transpired she had a grown-up appetite to match. Gone was the unhealthy obsession with her weight - she used to gaze in horror as I gorged on hautest cuisine (usually with a side order of onion rings). Today she ordered a steak the size of the Gaza Strip.
Talking of geographical disputes, there followed a humorous debate about who had travelled furthest that day. In the heat of the discussion, she even brandished a bread roll dangerously close to my face, which, as JC readers will well know, is my fortune.
We did a lot of reminiscing. She mentioned the 22nd birthday present that led to our break-up. I told her that I couldn't remember what it was; she said there was a good reason - I didn't get her one. I immediately offered to buy her something after the meal, and promised I'd even factor in inflation, although I did so with the confidence of a man who knew the shops were shut.
We discussed our respective marriages. Hers had been a loveless, passionless season in hell full of recrimination and regret, the lucky girl (mine was… well, it's a miracle I'm still a functioning member of society).
By the time dessert came, we had broached the subject of restarting our relationship. Unfortunately, we could barely move for obstacles. There was the huge distance between us to overcome, and the tremendous religious abyss - she's Orthodox, I'm Reform.
Pretty soon, our conversation began to sound like a negative version of Monty Python's "What did the Romans ever do for us?" scene from Life of Brian. I proposed that we arrange a further tryst for 2027 when we could reassess the situation, at which Melanie collapsed in a fit of giggles.
This was some consolation for the stubbed toe I got as I stood up to leave. Oh well. They say laughter is the best medicine; I would rather have had a padded Band-Aid and some aspirin. I made a mental note, ahead of my two-hour drive back to London, to endure social humiliation closer to home next time.