Stats: 36, 5’8”, blue/brown, London
When: Summer 2010
Where: South bank, London, SE1
Pre-date rating: 7/10
Going for a date by the river is always a risk. No matter how limpid a pool the baby blues, greens or browns across from you might be, one lull in conversation is all it takes before your own peepers wander over to take in the Thames in all her glory, rippling in resplendent muddy brown while your date tells you about a pony trekking holiday he took when he was 7.
It’s 7.30pm, it’s a Thursday evening and I am sitting scratching my name into a wooden table outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall while my date enters his twentieth minute talking about his job. Oh, this happens. The problem with asking people what they do for a living is that they tell you, and, unless you break in with a new topic of conversation or dash your drink in their face, they go on telling you all about it – every email sent, tea run completed and pat on the back from the boss is documented before you.
He works for a charity, which would be very impressive were he a bit more humble about it. He just wishes there were more he could do. He knew from the minute he could talk and walk that he wanted to devote his life to the service of others. I bite my tongue and thus do not ask him why he didn’t become a priest, perhaps, or take up a role at the window of a drive-thru McDonald’s.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve helped people,” he trills.
“Oh, that’s good,” I reply, “were you in the Cubs or Scouts, then?”
“Well, no, because I didn’t really like the uniform and they tended to do stuff at the weekends and I wanted to be playing out on my street,” comes the astounding retort.
“So what did you do?” I ask, twirling my straw around in my gin and tonic with enough force to start a quinine-based tsunami.
“Well, I was always on hand if anyone needed anything. ‘Mummy’s little saint’, my sisters used to call me.”
I bet they did.
I can just see him now: the pint-sized archangel popping round to his elderly neighbour’s house to trim his hedge and make him his tea; arriving home to help his little sister with her geometry homework and then slipping a fiver in his mum’s purse so she has enough for her lunch the next day, before trudging up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire for a lengthy slumber, dreaming of cocks in every hole.
The niceness of his profession – and he is at pains to run me through the figures of how many people he’s helped over the last year – seems to curdle with the perceived selfishness of my own. “I mean,” he says, “it’s great to do a job where you can really make a difference to people’s lives.” I try to imagine how many existences I’ve changed just by tapping away on a keyboard. I draw a blank.
“I have to raise my hat to you, though,” he says, with all the sincerity of a doctor’s receptionist wishing you a Merry Christmas, “I’m not sure I could work in such a corporate environment.” Corporate environment? Sitting at my kitchen table? And I suppose his own workplace is like backstage at Live Aid, right? I smile serenely and look away to the river.
He’s a good guy, I get it; the world is full of them. But surely the very best of all the good guys don’t like to go on about it? Bruce Wayne donned the bat ears for a reason, after all. It’s clear he has a big heart – with a head to match.
He asks about my job in more detail, but with each nod of the head as he strains to listen to each point, I’m starting to feel more and more superficial, a fraud and phoney. Nothing I do really helps anyone. But not everybody wants to be helped 24/7. I also want to move off the subject of work; the world of the 9–5 isn’t something couples should share all the time, and I’d rather my beau were more interested in me after I clocked off and kicked off my shiny office shoes (figurative footwear, of course – I am, as ever, in Converse morning, noon and night).
But when it comes to a social life, my date has little to say. He thinks I should volunteer at the weekend – he’s obviously changed his tune since his days of being desperate to play out as a boy – and wants to know why I don’t give my bank account details to charity workers on the street looking for direct debit regular donations. I roll my eyes.
“It’s almost like you’re doing a PR job on me,” I laugh.
“Oh, haha, well, er, of course, I’m not,” he smiles. “But.” He pauses to reach down under the table. Forward. Oh no, hang on; he’s grabbing his despatch bag. He pulls it out and rests it on the table, laboriously unfastening the Velcro on the dog-eared flap. “If you ever change your mind,” he continues, pulling out what looks like a leaflet, “a little really does make a lot of difference.”
He places what I see now is a thin, brightly coloured brochure before me. The gin I spilled when swishing my straw soaks into it and begins making its way across the printed surface.
“I know it’s a cliché,” I say, looking up from the table and back to my date, before finally settling my gaze on the river one last time. “But, for me, charity really does begin at home.”
And that’s exactly where I go.
Post-date rating: 5/10
Date in one sentence: This goody-two-shoes was in serious need of a cobbler.